Jenny Cromwell (pictured above) of the University of Virginia and Mary Jaghers of the University of California Berkeley captained the only two teams in the country to place all three of their crews in the grand finals at the NCAA championships last month. After the 4s and JV8s had raced Cal led the team points total by one point over Virginia (UVA's 4 won it's race, Cal's was second. Cal's JV was third, UVA's fourth. For a full points break down click here). The championship all came down to the V8- whichever V8 finished ahead of the other would win the championship. The honor went to UVA who stormed down the course to finish second behind Yale. Cal's V8 put up a great fight, but finished fourth to secure second place.
It is often said that rowing is the ultimate team sport. To go fast nine individuals must surrender themselves to one common goal. The success of Virginia and Cal's entire fleet of crews speaks to an incredible unity of spirit across their entire programs- from the teams' most elite rowers, to their novices, coaches, boatmen, and trainers. These two programs' consistent success at the NCAA championships is the ultimate accomplishment in the ultimate team sport.
I asked Captains Jenny Cromwell and Mary Jeghers to provide some insight into their successful seasons. The two are currently training together at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California where they hope to earn spots to represent the USA at this year's U23 World Championships in Brest, Belarus.
To what do you attribute the great display of teamwork required to get all three of your boats into the grand final at NCAAs?
Jenny Cromwell: It was our mission all along! From the very beginning of the school year we made the decision that we were going to win NCAAs. To do that, we knew that it was going to take hard work and perserverance from every individual on the team. We emphasized working together as a team and pushed ourselves as individuals and each other every day with the focus toward our end goal of capturing the NCAA title. From the work that we put in throughout the entire year and how we prepared for NCAAs, we were on a mission and we knew that we did not have to do anything special to win, we just had to take one step at a time and row our race.
Mary Jaghers: I think that the team of 2009-2010 was determined and very supportive. We really bonded to form a solid trust and motivation within each other. This year we had many underclassmen in the top boats and I think that having the support and guidance from the upperclassmen was influential on the team's performance. Having the competition from the underclassmen really made everyone fight even harder for their seat and ended up pushing us even further. We all knew that getting all the boats into the grand final would be crucial to fulfill the team goal. I guess it has also become a standard that we want to hold ourselves to and continue to strive for.
What were some of the major obstacles you encountered this season and how did you overcome them?
JC: As rowing is a spring sport we, we still have to train hard through the fall and winter, so it can become a long year in preparing for the spring. We always strive to stay healthy and we did a pretty good job of it this year, but we did have to handle some illness and some minor injuries. However, we have great trainers, doctors, and coaches that have helped and supported every individual to recover from any setbacks and to stay healthy.
MJ: As many know, our teammate, Jill Costello, was diagnosed with lung cancer in the summer of '09. This was definitely a shock to everyone and by far the hardest challenge. There were so many times when people on the team would be saying, "I wish I could just take some of Jill's pain away," or, "Can't I just take that one shot for her so she doesn't have to do it all the time." We all wanted to make it so much easier for her and help her as much as possible. Obviously, we couldn't take her pain, shots, chemo, etc. away from her so she could have a break, but we could offer her the support prayers, and positive energy that she needs.
Jill was unable to be at The Big Row (Cal/Stanford Dual) because she was on her pilgrimage in Lourdes, France. Everyone, including both Cal and Stanford, Men and Women, wore Jill's favorite color to symbolize their support. I really appreciated that our "big rival" school from across the bay would contribute to the support and belief in Jill. We all wanted to show Jill that we could do it, and take on the previous national champions. I knew that everyone was extremely nervous because The Stanford Dual has always been important and we had the nerves of the unknown (in terms of not knowing how much faster Stanford had got since the last time we raced them), but more importantly we knew this was so important to Jill and wanted it for her.
We all went out with incredible determination and did it for Jill! It meant so much to her that this regatta was to honor her. I think this helped us realize that Jill had to go through many rough times, but having a team with such a positive and fun attitude is what will help us all get through the rough patches.
Jenny Cromwell (far right) and the UVA Varsity 8. Their second place finish was enough to win their first NCAA Title.
What was going on inside your head before, during, and after your race at NCAAs?
JC: Before the race, I knew it was going to be up to the Varsity 8 to win the team title. I have been in that situation before during my freshman year at NCAAs because all the V8 had to do was beat Brown in the final to win the championship and we fell short. I knew our 4 and 2V8 were going to do a great job, but with such a fierce field this year and that the V8 accounts for half of the teams' points, I knew that we had to take control of this thing. We launched our boats as the 2V8 raced down the course so we could see their result. As I saw them race past and finish fourth, I did not become any more nervous or feel and different, rather, I felt better and a strong sense of responsibility knowing that the title rested in how we were about to perform. In my head I just thought, "Alright, let's do this." I did not get too caught up in thinking, "Gosh, this is my last race ever as a collegiate athlete!" but I did think of it for a moment, acknowledged it, and channeled the energy toward the racing to make it the best race ever. As I sat at the start line, the excitement and endorphins were at an ultimate high and I felt so ready to race. I knew our lane assignment on the near outside lane was not favorable so I knew it was going to be very important to stay composed and internal and to row our race.
Throughout the race, I had my thoughts of the team championship running through my mind, and I knew that in order to take the title we needed to at least beat Cal. I repeatedly said to myself, "the team," as I raced, never losing sight of winning the NCAA title. It was not until midway in the third 500m when my coxswain said we were moving on Princeton. I knew Princeton and Yale jumped out to an open water length lead on us at the beginning, so all of a sudden an intense surge of adrenaline came over me and we kicked in into a higher gear to keep the boat moving faster. As we were in the last 500m, I could not sense how close we were to first because Yale and Princeton were in lanes 1 and 2, but all I did know was that I needed to find another level and sprint really hard.
When the finish horn beeped for us, I had no idea we were that close to first, but I knew that when we crossed that finish line ahead of Cal, we clinched the NCAA title and the first words out of my mouth were, "We did it. We just made history."
MJ: Before the race, I don't typically like watching the other competition row by, especially if it is a dual race. Usually my main thought is, "Well we are doing the warm up now, and we have prepared all that we can for this race. There is nothing we can do now except go hard. I just want to know that I put it all out there and did what I could." So far, my three years here, I always think and sometimes whisper to my teammate a joke that we have had since my freshman year. It makes everything a little more relaxed.
During the race... I can't really tell you what I am thinking during a race because I never remember once it is over. I know that during the races with the Jill tanks (Cal raced in teal tanks with Costello's silhouette imprinted on the back) I would look at the silhouette on the back of the person in front of me and think, "Do it for Jill. She doesn't give up and you won't either."
After the race... All I think is one word... BREATHE, over and over again.
Just for Jenny: You spent three years getting SO close to winning NCAAs- how does it feel to go out on such a high note? Was there something particularly special about this year?
JC: For me this year was particularly special because it was my senior year and it was my last chance to get the job done. We had a lot of seniors on the team though and we are such a close group that has been with it for so long and we all wanted it more than ever. The camaraderie and teamwork was tighter and stronger than it has ever been which made the journey both unique and wonderful. It is such an amazing feeling to go out on the highest note possible because it was my dream ever since I committed to Virginia four years ago. Virginia has never won NCAAs but has come close on several accounts- one of which I was a part of my freshman year when we place second to Brown. I made a promise to myself to help bring Virginia its first national title and being able to have achieved my goal during my last race as a Cavalier is quite a remarkable feeling and a huge sense of accomplishment.
Just for Mary: So far you've finished third and then second two years in a row at NCAAs- are you looking forward to next year?
MJ: I am very excited for next year. It will be my last year and I will have one more shot for that national championship. I know that we lost some really good seniors this year, but from what I hear the incoming class is going to be good, and our lower classmen this year really pushed the older girls. Every year the team is different in their own way, and I am really excited to help promote that positive, exciting, and competitive attitude for a great spring.
Cal raced in special teal tanks to honor teammate Jill Costello (center with puppy). "Team Jill" finished second.