Crew team doesn’t disappoint at Dad Vail regatta

Mark Schneider

The women’s heavyweight four-person boat of the Northwestern club crew team clipped Indiana by .7 seconds to win the bronze Saturday at the Dad Vail regatta, the nation’s largest and most prestigious race for club and small varsity teams.

A strong burst in the final 600 meters gave NU a third-place time of 7:29. NU increased its strokes-per-minute rate from 36 to 40 during the last quarter of the 2000-meter race, a substantial increase that proved to be the decisive factor.

“There’s really no plan except to sprint at the end,” junior Susan Wunderink said. “If we had taken a stroke at the wrong time, they would have passed us. It was quite a battle.”

The finish was so tight that teammates watching from the sidelines thought NU had finished behind Indiana. The crew members themselves – juniors Wunderink, Abby Meadema, Allison Walk, Julie Oleynik and senior Siri Warkentien – did not know the finishing order until the final results were announced several minutes later.

“When we heard we started screaming,” Wunderink said.

The regatta, which was held in Philadelphia, hosted more than 100 schools, with almost 50 teams competing in the women’s open-weight, four-person race. Although NU has established itself as one of the strongest club crew teams in the Midwest in the past few years, the Dad Vail proved an opportunity to make a statement on the national scene.

“This is a huge step for our program,” Warkentien said. “It shows we are competitive with schools that have funding. It was very satisfying.”

NU lost to Indiana by one second in the first meeting between the teams, a semifinal heat. As competition progressed, however, NU grew more confident.

“I had no idea we were capable of medaling,” Wunderink said. “Later we started to think in that direction.”

Dowling won the gold in the women’s heavyweight four-person final, edging out Bucknell by one second to take gold with a time of 7:19.9.

The NU men’s heavyweight eight-person boat competed twice on Friday and qualified for the semifinals before being eliminated. Their time of 6:09.1 in the semifinal heat resulted in a sixth-place finish, not good enough to advance to the finals.

Although no final decision has been made, with Warkentien returning as a fifth-year senior next year, the members of the women’s four-person boat are entertaining the notion of bringing back the same squad to build upon this season’s success.

“If we have the same rowers, I would like to do better than bronze next year,” Wunderink said. “We’ve had a great year, but we can expect more of ourselves.”