In the 81st annual Big Row against No. 2 California at Redwood Shores, three of No. 4 Stanford’s four women’s rowing boats toppled the higher ranked Bears to take home the Lambert Cup for the first time since 2009. The women’s lightweight team swept Cal’s 3V8 and 4V8 boats, while the Stanford men’s team was swept in all three events.
The last time that the women’s varsity boats swept Cal was at the 2009 Big Row — the same year that the Card went on to win its first and only NCAA Team Championship.
“I’m so proud of the depth of this team this year,” said senior Kristy Wentzel of the women’s openweights. “This year across the board, there is so much strong competition between the boats and everybody is in it.”
The 2V8 boat was the last Stanford boat to beat Cal, in 2011. This year, it captured its sixth win of the season, beating Cal by a narrow margin of 2.7 seconds. The varsity four boat started the three-boat win streak for the women after the 2V4 dropped the first race for the openweight women. Following the 1V4, the 2V8 took the race from No. 2 Cal.
The final race for the women was the 1V8, which was coming off of a narrow loss to USC over the previous weekend. Despite Cal having a much stronger base rate than the Card, Stanford was able to push ahead from the start and take the lead early on, ultimately winning the race by three seconds.
“I didn’t allow myself to think that we [the 1V8] were going to win the race until about the last 200 meters and it was just this surreal moment of winning and it was just awesome to pass that finish line together,” Wentzel said.
The women’s lightweight teams started off on the right stroke as the No. 2 Cardinal swept both the Bears’ 4V8 and 3V8 boats. The two teams last met for the Card’s first regatta of the season at the Pac-12 Challenge. In that race, the 2V8 fell to Cal’s 4V8 by 12 seconds with the 1V8 losing to Cal’s 3V8 by just over four seconds.
“One of our goals today was to make this race something that we could be excited to take to our nationals,” said junior 1V8 coxswain Jordan Duval-Smith. “We wanted this race to be something we felt comfortable with and confident in and I think we did that.”
This time around, the Cardinal were much better prepared after almost a full season of competition under their belt. Despite an early headwind, the 2V8 and 1V8 cruised to victory, winning by 16.1 and 16.8 seconds, respectively. It was the first victory for the 2V8 since the San Diego Classic in early April.
“We [the 2V8] took the lead right from the start,” said senior Molly Hayes. “We had 15 high strokes [opening sprint] after our first five strokes and…we decided to keep inside our boat and not look out of our boat until about 500 meters and saw that we were ahead.”
Unfortunately, after holding on to the Schwabacher Cup for the past year, the No. 11 Stanford men’s team was unable to put together a second consecutive underdog win over the Bears and was swept in the frosh eight, 2V8 and 1V8 races by No. 2 Cal.
The Cardinal have been struggling all season to find their fastest lineup. The lineup for Big Row was set at practice the night before racing, so the eight men didn’t quite have enough time to gel as a group.
“These were the top eight guys for our team,” said sophomore 1V8 coxswain Nathalie Weiss. “And we felt really good going into this race; it’s definitely the strongest lineup that we have on our team. We were definitely the underdogs going in but we definitely got some confidence in this lineup even though it was just pulled together yesterday.”
The four freshmen that had been in contention for the 1V8 lineup were moved to the frosh boat and the upperclassmen who were “up in the air,” as assistant coach Jake Cornelius put it, were given a chance to move up from the 2V8.
“We’ve been trying to make the varsity boat faster and simultaneously have the frosh coalesce as a group so this was actually the first race that all the [top] frosh have been in the same boat,” Cornelius said.
Because of this lineup change, the frosh eight had a much more competitive race than it had all season long, falling to Cal by nine seconds. The 2V8 race was not nearly as close, however; the Bears left the Card in their wake by nearly 31 seconds.
Although the 1V8 lost by 10 seconds, the Cardinal used the race as an opportunity to test out a faster lineup and prepare for Pac-12s and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. The team as a whole, however, felt good about the finish and will continue to make lineup and seat switches through the end of the season. The race marked the last time that three seniors would race at Redwood Shores, including Austin Hack, a member of the U.S. National Rowing team.
“We know [Cal is] a really fast crew this year, really strong, so we had a good race for our boat and in the end that’s what you’ve got to walk away with: just being proud in what you’ve accomplished,” Weiss said.
“We are closer [to where the teams want to be] than we were in San Diego so that’s good,” Cornelius said. “We just keep pushing and we’ll continue to make switches and try to make the fastest boat and see who rows particularly well together, what guys fit in what seat best and just take it from there. It’s a work in progress.”
The men’s and women’s teams have two weeks off from competition before Pac-12s, followed by IRAs and NCAAs, while the lightweights will have PCRC Championships followed by their own IRAs.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.