Note: The Featured Image for this Update is of the Varsity 4 – in the middle of a stroke-for-stroke race for 2nd with UCSB … won by the Aztecs.
Each year, the cream of Southern California’s rowing world descends upon the Orange Coast College boathouse in Newport Beach to sort things out in an early season showdown. Occurring as it does a couple of weeks before the San Diego Crew Classic, the event showcases crews that are not only the very best in SoCal, but that are the very best club teams West of the Mississippi.
The Newport Regatta always happens early and runs very quickly. This is because there is no control over the waterway. Given that some of the most affluent homes in all of America are situated right on the race course, and that people there own yachts and sailboats that they might wish to use on a Sunday morning, things begin promptly at 7:30 A.M. and run on 15 minute centers until 8 races have passed by in just over an hour and a half! The regatta seems to be ‘over before it starts’ to some extent.
Up first were the Aztec Novice “C” and Novice “B” crews. As would be true all through the morning, the Aztecs were up against “The Best in the West.” Orange Coast won both of those early races, with UCSB’s juggernaut crews taking second. One piece of good news for the program was that only three non-scholarship Novice teams in the Western U.S. = O.C.C., U.C.S.B., and our own Aztecs = have enough athletes participating in their programs to enter into all of these races!
The Novice 8 “A” boat had its work cut out for it. On the starting line were six other crews, most of which were made up of athletes with high school experience in rowing. Particularly powerful (each and every year as a matter of fact) are the recruited athletes from Orange Coast (the winners of the Novice 8 event), the University of San Diego, and UCSB. Each of these crews held their own against the less experienced crews behind them. UCLA picked up the lead spot of the “non-recruited” crews and came in 4th, while our Aztecs came in 5th … handily defeating UC Irvine and USC.
After the slate of Novice races came the Lightweight Varsity 8. For three racing weeks in the 2014 campaign, our Aztec lights had their way with the competition. Launching at Newport, they were undefeated. In their race, only one other crew had entered = UCSB’s Lights. But the UCSB crew that the Aztecs had defeated several weeks before at Opening Day in Long Beach was not the UCSB crew that took the water at Newport. That is, in anticipation of the upcoming San Diego Crew Classic, UCSB’s coach had put a much more experienced crew out onto the water. In fact, most of the members of this crew at Newport were in the 8 that won the Crew Classic in 2013, defeating our Light 8 there.
While the SDSU Lightweight Varsity won the start and got an early lead, this UCSB crew did not fade as had their brothers several weeks before. Coming past the 1,500 meter mark, the Aztecs had a lead, but only a slim one. And, uncharacteristically, the Aztecs were not able to hold off a late charge from UCSB, dropping the decision by 2 seconds in the end.
Then came the Varsity 4 race. One year earlier, while UCSB’s eventual West Coast Champions won the Varsity 4 at Newport, our Aztecs had pulled somewhat of a surprise and had come in second. This year, the same result was obtained. The field was easily defeated by Loyola’s powerhouse 4+, which was no surprise to anybody. But in a tight race for second place, our Aztec 4 went wire-to-wire in a gut wrenching fight with the defending Champions of this event from UCSB. In the end – in the closest race of the regatta – the Aztecs won that race for second by a mere two feet! While not a cup winning victory, this second place finish (placing the Aztecs ahead of UCSB, UCLA, and Chapman University) was particularly gratifying for Varsity oarsman Chris Huffstetler who had been in the Varsity 4 in 2013.
In the Varsity 8 race, as was the case in the Novice 8 event, the SDSU Aztecs faced a field that was loaded. Last year’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fastest club crews in the Western U.S. (from UCSB, UCI, OCC, and UCLA respectively) were entered. And to make the field even faster, the I.R.A. level (athletic department supported) crew from the University of San Diego was entered. Fresh from their victory over UCSD’s Tritons a week before, the Toreros of USD won the event. Oddly enough, even though our Aztecs came in 6th, in defeating USC’s Trojans once again, they held their place in the 2014 hierarchy of West Coast crews. It was a good, solid race, indicating where we fit in the world of club racing.
At the end of the day, the coaching staff drew the entire team together and Coach Perez gave the young Aztecs some words of encouragement that had several themes. First, only UCSB has more athletes in their program, so at this point in our development, we are a very “wide” team. Second, though we are not yet “deep” (because to be deep – as opposed to wide – you have to be on top), we did have two crews that raced for the gold in the premiere regatta of Southern California’s racing year (other than the Crew Classic, of course). And finally, this regatta placed us next to a veritable “who’s who” of West Coast club rowing. Whatever crew they were in, and whatever the results, the Aztecs at Newport had seen “the mountaintop” of West Coast boat speed. If they learn from it, then this 2014 Newport event will be an important, touchstone experience for the SDSU Crew future.