Featured Image: The Novice 8 defeats U.C. Irvine and Loyola by numerous boat lengths.
The annual Parker Cup races between our own Aztecs and the Anteaters of U.C. Irvine and the Lions of Loyola-Marymount University – named after John Parker, a major donor and Aztec supporter from the ’80s – were contested on Ballona Creek in Los Angeles on Saturday the 15th of March. While the race for the Parker Cup itself was awarded to the incredibly fast Varsity 8 from U.C. Irvine, the over-all performances on the day indicated that the SDSU Men’s Crew program has moved into contention as a major force in Southern California.
The Day began with the Varsity 8 race which saw the defending West Coast Champions from Irvine outdistancing our Aztecs by numerous boat lengths. While it was good to experience racing a crew of that caliber, there’s no doubt that the Aztecs were surprised by Irvine’s boat speed – after winning several shirts on each of two previous racing weekends of this season. The silver lining in that cloud was that the Aztecs easily defeated the Varsity 8 from Loyola-Marymount, a crew that defeated us each time we raced them one year ago.
The Lightweight 8 then had its first race (of two) on the day. Easily outdistancing Loyola-Marymount’s Lightweight Varsity 8, the Aztecs continued their dominance of Loyola from the 2012-2013 season. The race was such a blowout that our Varsity Lightweight Coxswain (Selysa Marshall), brought the SDSU stroke rate down and down and down until they finished the second thousand meters of the race at 30 strokes per minute (5 strokes per minute under their normal racing stroke for this time of year). They did not sprint at all.
Next up were the Novices. In the Novice 8 race, our SDSU “A” crew (a picture of them is the “Featured Image” for this News Report) blasted off of the line and quickly took the lead. By the time that they crossed the 1,000 meter, half way mark – where the crowds are located at the Ballona Creek race course – the young Aztecs had several boats of open water between them and the race that was going on behind them. That race (the “other race”) was between U.C. Irvine’s Novice 8 and our Novice “B” crew. Due to a death in her family that occurred literally the night before, our Novice “B” Coxswain could not attend the race. With no other alternatives, Novice Coach Julia Gamache put an Aztec oarsman into the coxswain’s seat. Even with this completely inexperienced “Coxswain,” the “B” crew was able to stick with the Anteaters all of the way down the course. In the end, our “B” crew lost a very, very close race to Irvine’s top Novice 8.
Our victorious Novice “A” crew was made up of Sierra Fackler at Coxswain, Alex Plambeck at Stroke, Connor Sperling at 7, Azael Castro at 6, Logan Clark at 5, Novice Captain Cameron Elliot at 4, Jordan Wolfe at 3, Thomas Trzcinski at 2, and Jonah Ortiz in the Bow.
Then came the Varsity 4 race. Loyola’s Varsity 4 – the defending Bronze medalists from last year’s Western Sprints, and the odds on favorites to win the Gold in Sacramento this season – took the race by several boat lengths. While this might have been disconcerting to our Aztec four, this was a chance for them to see the 4+ that is quite literally the fastest crew West of the Mississippi! Loyola’s Head Coach Pete Mallory (yes – the same Pete Mallory who coached our SDSU Aztecs as our Head Coach in 1978) put a second Varsity 4 into the race … and the Aztecs had a neck-and-neck race with that crew all of the way down the course. In the sprint, our V4 – made up of Maddie Homa at Cox, Kevin O’Mara at Stroke, Stephen Lyons at 3, Colin Byrne at 2, and Chris Huffstetler in the Bow – held off the hard charging Lions for second place.
And then came the highlight of the day. Because there was no access to any dock that could be utilized to change men in-and-out of one shell or another, when the Second Varsity (the “Junior Varsity” to us old people) race came along, Coach Perez decided to send the Lightweight out again … for their second race in 50 minutes. Knowing in advance that the Varsity Lightweight race was likely to be “not very close” (which it wasn’t), it seemed like a good idea to have this year’s undefeated Varsity Lightweight 8 get into a much more challenging race than they had experienced theretofore. Given that each of their three lightweight races on the season had been won by 20 seconds or more (about 6 boat lengths), the thought was that a race against U.C. Irvine’s heavyweight 2V would probably give the Aztecs Lightweights the sort of challenge that would temper them for racing later on.
The race was a “barn burner” = the kind of race that athletes remember for the rest of their lives. The start was pretty even, but the size and power of the much larger Anteaters began to tell about 250 meters into the race. Slowly taking a lead and then increasing it, U.C. Irvine went ahead by about 8 seats at the 750 meter mark. But the extremely fit Aztecs did not falter. Having faith in what has been referred to as “Aztec Country” for a generation now = the middle of the race, where our fitness tends to allow us to defeat most crews = the Lightweight Varsity 8 began to move back on Irvine’s heavyweights. At the mid point, the Aztecs were only down by about two seats. At about 1250 meters into the race, the Aztecs pulled even. And when it was time for the sprint, the Aztecs enjoyed a small lead.
Exhorted on by Coxswain Selysa Marshall to “take their shirts,” the Aztecs flew into a sprint for which the Anteaters had no response. In the last few strokes, our SDSU Aztec Lightweight 8 (made up of Selysa at Coxswain, Mike Buckel at Stroke, Matt Stewart at 7, Royce Cumming at 6, Philip Dobaj at 5, Alec Brunson (a Novice!) at 4, Jacob Stauts at 3, Blake Rhoades at 2, and team Captain Scott Gerdes in the Bow) pulled out to a full length. They crossed the finish line having won two races and having earned Loyola-Marymount Lightweight shirts and U.C. Irvine Heavyweight shirts in the span of about an hour!
In the end, the Aztecs had taken two out of three races from Irvine and two out of three races from Loyola. Those results doubled the number of victories won by the Aztecs against these exact same programs one year before!