For the first time in club history, the Western Washington University men’s rowing club won gold and bronze during the American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta on Sunday, May 22, in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
During three days of tough competition, WWU men’s rowing far exceeded their expectations. Both the varsity and first-year novice four-man boats not only made the elusive Sunday grand final, but medaled in their 2000-meter season-closing races.
The ARCA Regatta is one of only a few big tournaments the crew team has been able to participate in due to COVID-19 in the past two years.
Carl Smith, a 2011-15 Western rowing alum, was able to watch the livestream of the tournament.
“It's cool to see the first big reentry race went so well,” Smith said. “It is a big accomplishment, it’s extremely tough to be competitive on that scale.”
The Western novice crew started off hot as they finished first on Friday, May 20 over college clubs like The University of Cincinnati and Northwestern. The Western varsity team also saw early success and came in second in their race, only being five seconds behind The University of Rhode Island.
Western varsity rower and senior Angel Torres saw these initial successes as a jumping-off point for the Western varsity and novice boats.
“After the first race, I was impressed by our time, placing top six,” Torres said. “That's when I started having the thought that ‘yeah, we could push for grand and maybe get a medal.’”
Following Friday’s stellar performances by the two Western crews, Saturday’s semifinals went almost as well, with both teams once again placing in the top three.
This was not enough for Ryan Mueller, a Western freshman, and the other members of his novice four-man team, though. After losing their Saturday semifinal by a measly few seconds, his crew looked to do better.
“After getting second place by three seconds, we really focused in, on that night and did a long visualization,” said Mueller. “We just broke down video footage and looked at how we were rowing.”
The practice of visualization is common in rowing, though the Western novice team took it to an entirely new level with a 40-minute session the night before their final race.
“All of us shut our eyes, Alexa [Johnston, the coxswain,] then walks us through the entire day leading up to the race,” said Mueller. “We run through that entire process and focus in on what we're going to need; we do that all the way up to the finish.”
The morning after a night of long visualization sessions, the Western novice team achieved gold.
Jonathan Freeberg, senior and one of two coaches during the ARCA Regatta, admired the first-year rowers for their focus before and during Sunday’s race.
“They were completely dialed in,” said Freeberg. “They had the best race of their lives and ended up taking it.”
The men’s varsity four-man crew also placed bronze, marking the second time the Western men’s crew ever medaled in club history, within one weekend.
Mueller attributes his novice team's success to tactics like visualization, extreme focus and a team-oriented mindset.
“We're 100% focused, as soon as we step into the boat, get out on the water and strap in our feet, we're focused,” Mueller said. “The second you take your first stroke your head is in the boat.”
With the Western Men’s Rowing Club back in Bellingham after a long but successful weekend, many members can't wait for future seasons.
“Every time we've gotten in the boat, especially this last week, we've got better,” said Mueller. “I’d like to see us next season go out there and keep that pattern continuing.”
Tournament triumphs like these have been few and far between for the men of the Western crew. Though with two medals now being brought back to Western and such outstanding performances from the novices, they have high hopes for the coming seasons.
“Especially the younger dudes exhibiting that I think is really encouraging,” said Smith. “I think it bodes well for the future generations of folks who come through the program.”
Jack Glenn (he/him) is the editor in chief for The Front this quarter. He began working at the Front in the spring of 2022 as a sports reporter.