ACRA National Championships Recap 2024

Returning back to Oak Ridge for our National Championship, Virginia was loaded for bear! Our preparation was flawless and with Varsity 8 and Second Varsity 8 having an undefeated spring season, expectations were high. Our focus all season was on execution, and execute we did.

The Varsity 8 came into Nationals ranked #1. With another year of record entries (31 Varsity 8’s), the progression required us to be on our game from the first stroke. The Varsity 8 finished second behind Notre Dame in the time trial by less than one second. They won the semifinal, beating UCLA by a length. Two well executed pieces down, we knew the Grand final would be a barn burner. Starting fast has been an asset all year, and yet again the guys took off with 49 strokes per minute, settling in with a few seats over the field by the 500-meter mark. The leads changed multiple times over the course as Notre Dame, Virginia and UCLA exchanged blows and punches all the way to the line. In the final strokes, Notre Dame put their horsepower to work (their top erg is a staggering 5:49, with another three at 6:00) and were able to win the race by a few seats, while UVA held off hard charging UCLA by a 0.5 second! Notre Dame finally strung together a great race while our guys had the race of their lives. I’ve rarely ever seen a second-place crew truly satisfied with their performance, but they rightfully were as it was the closest medal race in ACRA history. That silver medal was golden for sure! Side note: you know it’s tough racing when Michigan misses the Grand Final.

The Second Varsity 8 was also ranked #1 coming into the regatta. The heat, semifinal and Grand Final were all raced in the same cool manner: blistering start, relaxed settle with a ¾ length over the field and hammering down with a crushing move at the 1,000-meter mark. Especially in the Grand Final where racing gets a lot tighter – and perhaps a few nervous strokes – they absolutely performed to their best, winning by a ¾ length over Michigan and Purdue (four seconds back from UVA). The Second Varsity 8 successfully finished an undefeated spring season, in which they kept true to their racing focus and enjoyed the process. Last year’s win in that boat was essential to our Varsity 8’s development this year, and yet again, we only have three rowers graduating and the Second Varsity 8 had mostly hungry second years on board!

The Third Varsity 8 was unranked but in the preliminary race on Friday they let everyone know they are here to play hard. They won their heat over Michigan and Minnesota. In the Grand Final, Bucknell (winner of the other heat) took the win in a tight bowball to bowball battle, with UVA finishing third. Our guys rowed well but perhaps not quite as well as in the heat, yet Michigan completely turned themselves around for the final. Still, finishing third was great and throwing down a 6:10 in neutral conditions is excellent for Third Varsity 8! They guys were a little disappointed as they had high expectations for themselves, but all the coaches agreed that they did a great job. Purdue, Rutgers, Minnesota and UNC rounded out the 7-boat final.

The Novice 8 had its up and downs through the season and despite being ranked #3, they had to battle some tough preliminary races. In the heat, they fell to Bucknell by less than a tenth of a second. In the semifinal they faced the favorite Purdue, UC Davis, and Minnesota. They did not have a good race, just couldn’t find their groove and with UC Davis, Minnesota, and UVA charging to the line with changing leads, they ended up fourth by a few tenths and hence the B-Final. In the B-Final, they raced much better and executed well, finishing second behind Michigan by half a length. Purdue took the gold with a staggering performance over Orange Coast and UC Davis. It was a little consolation for them to know that their time would have earned them a bronze in the Final. But in the end, Novice racing is about learning from your experiences. There are solid guys in that boat who will return hungry for more!

The Novice 4+ was a dark horse and prelims were going to be tough with a total of 33 boats entered. For many programs, the four is their top novice boat, so they took nothing for granted. They rowed well through the time trial, then placed second in their semi to advance to the Grand Final. Given their times, they maybe had an outside chance for a medal, but it was a tall order with Texas taking the win with a blistering 6:52 ahead of Vanderbilt and Middlebury, finishing sixth overall. Of all the programs ahead of them, none had a Novice 8 entered.

The 4x is always a UVA darling and our past successes have inspired more programs to enter the event, as heats were required to determine the Grand Final. Virginia won the heat over Vanderbilt and Ohio State, with Michigan State taking the win in the other heat. In the Grand Final, the big boys from MSU, Vanderbilt, and UVA were battling it out with Purdue nipping at their heels. In one of the closest 4x races I can remember MSU top boat took the win with Vanderbilt in second and UVA third, closely followed by Purdue in fourth. The race was well executed but needless to say the guys felt they let everyone down by not winning. Personally, I think the 4x is a fantastic boat to race and learn, and these guys got so much out of it. One of the lessons to be learned is don’t pressure yourself because of a legacy.

The 2x was manned by two novices who didn’t make the Novice 4+, where the bow seat didn’t start rowing until this spring. They really held their own through the entire regatta. A second-place finish in the heat got them to the A/B semifinal, where they finished fifth and raced in the B-Final on Sunday. They had a good race in the B-Final but ended up fifth and eleventh overall. Which, given how much progress they made through spring, was a fantastic result for them!

In the 1x we had Jackson Ciocca collecting some invaluable experiences. I should point out that Jackson is a coxswain! He didn’t make one of the three varsity eights and was left with a choice. He took the challenge upon himself to learn to scull, train in the 1x and ultimately race the 1x. He finished fifth out of seven in the heat; ending up in the C-Final. Jackson went on to battle hard and win the C-Final by over 8 seconds! For a coxswain (and novice sculler) this is a very respectable result and more importantly; he was able to gather significant experiences for his coxing next year.