STANFORD, Calif. - The No. 11 Stanford men’s rowing team will face No. 2 Cal in the annual Big Row at Redwood Shores on Saturday.
Last year when the two schools met it was a top 10 battle with Cal entering ranked No. 3 and Stanford No. 7. Despite the rankings, the Golden Bears were a heavy favorite after beating the Cardinal by six seconds earlier in the year at the San Diego Crew Classic.
“We were underdogs and nobody expected us to win,” said senior Austin Hack. “We met as a boat beforehand and talking about everybody stepping up and going at it with a lot of grit.”
Stanford’s varsity eight featured four seniors as well as Hack, who was in his junior year and would go on to earn Pac-12 Athlete of the Year for men’s rowing. It was an experienced boat that gained momentum as the season went along.
“Last year we had a really good idea of what our lineup was,” said junior Kaess Smit. “We had been dialing in our lineup for a few weeks. We had a few rough races, but with each race we made some good gains.”
Cal started off the race with a lead, but Stanford held its own through the first 750 meters and trailed by only two seats.
“For the first half of the race we were down,” said Smit. “We were down a few seats and we were just hitting our splits to hold on.”
As the two teams approached the bridge, a mix of Stanford’s veteran experience and enthusiasm from the crowd, which included many friends of the Stanford crew, helped the Cardinal make its move.
“The turning point was two minutes into the race when we started moving on them,” said Hack. “A bunch of our friends were at the bridge making a lot of noise and that was huge.”
Overtaking Cal after they passed the bridge, Stanford then started to open up its lead.
“I had a feeling we were going to win heading into the race,” said Smit. “Once we started walking on them I knew we were going to win. It was a collective determination that brought everyone through it.”
Hack was not so sure as Smit during the final 500 meters.
“I just kept thinking to myself that we can’t let them come back on us,” said Hack. “Even after the race was over I didn’t say anything because I still had it in my mind that they were going to come back and we had to stop it.”
Once Stanford crossed the finish line in a course record time of 5:31.2 the team erupted in jubilation. Senior Jason Lupatkin was screaming in excitement while the entire boat celebrated its memorable victory.
“There was a bigger sense of desperation and a lot of kids who really wanted it,” said Smit. “Most of the battle is really wanting it.”
The four seniors in that varsity eight were Lupatkin, Dave Dolben, Oivind Lorentzen and Will Faulkner. It was a memorable final home race for those four individuals. After the race Lupatkin said, “It's been a long time coming. We all have embraced the working life and knew that it was our time to win. Put simply, we executed."
This year Hack has been the lone senior in the varsity eight. The four seniors have been replaced with four freshmen for the majority of the spring. Hack and fellow seniors Cole Johnson and Will Robins will look to end their Stanford careers as last year’s senior class did.
“This year is totally different,” said Smit. “We have talent but we aren’t as consistent and don’t have as much knowledge of how racing works.”
The racing knowledge is one of the main factors that helped the 2013 Stanford boat knock off Cal and is something the team is still working on in 2014.
“A big thing is knowing when to respond,” said Hack. “You can have a lot of strong, talented guys but it doesn’t make you a good racer. It is little things like knowing when to take advantage of an opponent’s mistake. That was big last year.”
Head coach Craig Amerkhanian has tried several different lineups in the varsity eight throughout this spring and the Cal meet will give the boat one more race to gain experience as they continue to build towards the Pac-12 Championships and IRA Championships later this month.