ACRA National Championships 2016

The American Collegiate Rowing Association regatta continues to show why it is, arguably, the best championship regatta in the United States. Among other things, it is contested at the best regatta venue in America; the competition is truly national; the format includes by far the most boat classes of the national championships; and the regatta’s steering committee actively helps all of the programs become more competitive each year (even adding a “Men’s Improvement Trophy” to the list of possible regatta awards). It all adds up to a great experience for everyone.

The UVa Wahoos had another good ACRA regatta. The medal count wasn’t as high as in past years, but the VRA placed 9 out of its 10 boat-class entries in their respective grand finals, with solid performances all around.

Ashley Gale, VRA’s lone female athlete, started championship Sunday with an early-morning gold-medal row. She employed a strategy of “Get ahead early so that no one feels they have a chance.” She rowed very well as she bested the 6-crew field with a 12 second grand-final win. Congratulations, Ashley!

The men’s singles (Andrew Anderson and Jaak Cardon) found out that the field of 16 ACRA singles was very competitive. The competition was too stiff for the VRA rowers to qualify for the grand final, but they both had good rows in the B final, finishing 2nd and 7th respectively.

VRAs 2X entry (Connor O’Brien, Ryan Cheng) rowed together for about a week and a half before ACRAs, and the early practices were not terribly encouraging. The two made several technical changes, however, and got faster with every row, both in Charlottesville and in Gainesville. By the time they reached the grand final, they were flowing well and sustaining their speed. They won a very tight grand final (9 boats across, 16 in the field total) by 2 seconds, bringing home the gold.

The novice 4 was unable to compete at ACRAs due to an injury to one of the rowers. VRA instead entered Joel Greenberg and Scott Miller—both pure novices—in the varsity pair event. Considering the field of 20 crews, the pair’s chances did not look good on paper (for example, both the gold-medal- and silver-winning pairs from the Dad Vail regatta were in the field). On the water, however, the two flowed well. They were forced to win an 8-boat repechage in order to advance to the grand final. They finished last in the grand final, but rowed well and were very happy with their overall regatta performance.


Like the 2X, VRAs quad entry (Matt Whitesell, Sebastian Simko, Stephen Barlow, Willie Nuckols) got faster and gained more confidence with each practice. They spent a lot of time watching video together and devising a solid race plan. By the grand final on Sunday, they were sitting up and flowing well. Although the field of 5 crews was small, it was no pushover. Both George Mason and Michigan chased the 4X down the course, but the Hoos maintained their poise. They held on for a 5 second victory, and were happy to receive gold medals for their efforts.

After the novice 8’s forgettable performance at the Dad Vail, the crew was determined to turn things around for ACRAs. As the N8 (Connor Joslin, Nic Zugris, Aaron Petitt, Paul Armstrong, Lars Nordin, Billy Burris, Sean Allen, John Seely, Jason Pazirandeh) tapered in Gainesville, they made several of what their coach called, “essential mistakes”— ones that are crucial for novices to make, understand, and overcome in order to truly row their best grand final. In the GF, the N8 had a great start, leading the field at the 750 mark. Although they continued to row well, four crews were able to pass them in the next 1250, and the Hoos finished 5th (22 crews overall). Although it was the first time in 6 years that UVa novices have not medaled at ACRAs, the crew was very upbeat and confident about their performance. They finished the season on a high note, and are excited to join the varsity squad in August.

The lightweight 4 (Justin Deaver, Tim Rodriguez, Tim McMullen, Max Ober, Austin Hall) was an entirely new lineup of rowers from the Dad Vail and SIRA regattas. The new set of lightweights felt pressure to live up to the previous L4’s performance, and they were very focused during their training. In the grand final, they rowed well and fast all the way down the course, but were unable to secure a medal. The crew finished 4th (12 crews overall), and had every reason to hold their heads high.

The varsity 4 (Will Lewitus, Matt Zetkulic, Chris Mikus, Dan Weihs, Ellie Coles) also made their grand final, which was impressive considering the field consisted of 31 crews overall. Many of those crews entered their top 4 rowers in the event (UVa our 17th thru 20th), making the challenge of medaling all the more difficult. As all of the UVa varsity crews did, the V4 practiced well and were mentally prepared to race their best on Sunday. They qualified for the grand final, and once there, rowed a solid 2000 meters to finish 6th. The crew was happy with its performance.

The 2nd varsity 8 (Sam Needham, Keith Cascells-Hamby, Frank Vasquez, Chris Hastings, Eddie Tiernan Grant Janart, Dick Williams, Neal Axelrod-Adams, Calvin Heimberg) traveled to Gainesville determined to bring home a gold medal. The crew showed impressive speed in Charlottesville, and was set up well to achieve their goal. In the grand final, however, the depth of the Michigan Wolverines proved too much to overcome. Although the guys were disappointed, they rowed very hard and fast (holding off a hard-charging UCSB crew in the end) and brought home the silver medal (field of 14 crews overall).

The varsity 8 (Jake Power, Isaac Mackey, Scott Helgeson, Garrett Overholser, Nathan Heinzman, Stephen Hayes, Riley Hazard, Zach Heese, Andrew Heinzman) similarly had an excellent two weeks of training for ACRAs. They advanced easily through their heat and semifinal, rowing the fastest times of the entire field (29 crews overall) in both races. The grand final, as always, was a barnburner. The Michigan Wolverines rode their “fastest erg scores ever” to a gold-medal finish, while a quickly-improving UCSB finished just a deck behind them. UVa finished third, securing the bronze medal. Though the guys were a bit disappointed, UVa AGAIN brought home a medal in the fastest boat class at the regatta.

In the end, Michigan, UCSB, and Virginia finished 1st, 2nd, and 3rd overall in the men’s points championship. It’s a fast group to be part of.

As always, the VRA board of directors, coaches, and athletes thank our parents, alumni, and friends for all of your support this season. Without you, the program could not achieve and sustain its success.

Go Hoos!