Southern California Opening Day

[Note: The featured image here is of the two Varsities = the Lightweights AND Heavyweights = both victorious on March 1st.]

The Aztec Navy, all 65 of them, continued on with the young 2014 season this past Saturday by traveling up to Long Beach’s Marine Stadium in a driving rain storm for the annual Southern California Opening Day Regatta. In attendance were crews from UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, Orange Coast College, Chapmen College, Long Beach State, USC, UC San Diego, and Arizona State. Only three of Southern California’s crews were absent.

The day began with an odd break in the weather. After all of California spent the week girding for the most violent storm in several years, there was an unexpected lull in the storm that arrived just before the Aztecs trailer pulled into the Regatta parking lot. As the rain stopped, and the wind abated, the sun actually peaked out through the clouds. Staying reasonably dry and wind-free for much of the next four hours, the weather Gods seemed to be smiling on the crews and on the Regatta.

Despite this unexpected boon, the Aztec Novice program suffered through an odd day. In the first Novice race of three, our “C” crew was defeated by the “B” crew of USC. Then, our “B” crew suffered the embarrassing experience of flipping their 8 during the pre-race warm-up. They did not even make it to the race course. While everyone was safe – as was the shell (The Josh Gruenberg) – it was rather a strange beginning for the Regatta.

Finally, in the premiere Novice 8 race of the day, Novice Coach Julia Gamache’s “A” crew squared off against the three Southern California novice crews that might very well prove out to be the fastest of all this season = UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and Orange Coast College. While holding on to these crews of recruited athletes (all possessing high school experience) for much of the race, our “genuine novices” were just out-manned at the very end … picking up the rear in a race that was nearly as fast as the varsity races soon to come.

But the fortunes of the Aztecs then improved once the Defending West Coast Champion Lightweight 8 took to the water. Coach Perez was experimenting with a new line-up on Opening Day, but the results were the same as they have been for almost every, single Aztec lightweight race in the past two seasons = The Aztecs showed their stern to the field in just the first couple of hundred meters of the race. Winning every stroke of the race, the Aztecs cruised home with a clean and, to some extent, “easy” victory over the Gauchos of UCSB and the 49ers of LBSU.

As noted, the crew was demonstrably different from that which prevailed a short week before on the waters of Mission Bay. While the stern 4 of Mike Buckel (Stroke), Matt Stewart (7), Blake Rhoades (6), and Philip Dobaj (5) was the same – as was the 3 man, Jacob Stauts – the rest of the crew included some new faces. At 4 was second year man Levi Imbuzan and in the bow was a January 2013 recruit, Bryan Medina. At two was the lone novice who is rowing this year as a member of the Varsity squad = Alec Brunson. And to round things out, Novice Coxswain Maddie Homa was given the nod to take the Aztecs down the course to their second consecutive win of the season.

Then, the second Varsity 8 took to the water with the toughest draw of the Varsity events = racing against Orange Coast, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara. These were the same three powerhouses that faced the Novice “A” boat several hours before and, unfortunately, the result was the same. While the very inexperienced 2V (or “J.V.”) 8 stayed in touch with the leaders for about 1,600 meters, in the end, they brought up the rear of the race.

However, all was not lost for the Aztecs. The very next race on the program was one of the two flights of Varsity 8s. On the water, there was UCLA in Lane #1, Long Beach State in Lane #2, Arizona State in Lane #3, and our own Aztecs out in Lane #4. As was anticipated in advance, the real race was between the Bruins of UCLA in Lane #1 and the Aztecs out in Lane #4. The race was about dead even for the first 1,000 meters, when – going by the Long Beach Boathouse (1,200 meters in) – the Aztecs began to pull out to a slim lead. Slowly enhancing that lead, SDSU’s Varsity passed through the 1,750 meter mark with exactly one length of advantage. Heading into the last 30 strokes with this one length lead over the Bruins … the 49ers of LBSU and the Sun Devils of ASU were being pushed further and further to the rear by the Aztecs.

Varsity Coxswain Brianna Gage then showed her cool under fire … asking the Aztecs to take the stroke rate up “just one” at that point … as the crew had great swing and boat speed. She felt that nothing better than what was happening could possibly come from trying too dramatic of a sprint. Her call was perfect, and the Aztecs increased their one length advantage during those last 30 strokes … to cross the Finish Line a length-and-a-half ahead of the somewhat shocked Bruins.

When asked after the race what the final margin of victory was, Brianna exhibited her characteristic modesty when she replied, “Oh … about 5 seats or so.” Actually, it wasn’t five seats … IT WAS FIVE SECONDS! (Again, a length-and-a-half.)

In the end, the Aztec Varsity had won its third and fourth shirts in the first two weeks of the season. At this early point in the spring, the fastest boat in the Aztec armada has defeated Long Beach State (twice) and a trio of PAC 12 crews = USC, Arizona State, and UCLA

In the end, the day presented a bi-furcated experience for our ever-improving group = The Novice program experiencing a frustrating day (albeit one on which they learned a great deal), and the Varsity program had its best day of racing in more than half a decade!

Ahead is a “BYE” week, through which the Aztecs will work very, very hard – increasing the work load back to the sort that they experience during the long, hard winter. Then, the Parker Cup (in Los Angeles) and the Newport Regatta will follow in the subsequent two weeks.

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