Though Clemson ultimately had to settle for a second-place finish on Saturday as top-ranked Virginia won the Varsity 8 race to claim its third straight ACC Rowing Championship, the Tigers and Cavaliers tellingly began that final and pivotal showdown deadlocked at 32 team points apiece.
And despite the fact that Virginia eked out a 56-52 points advantage to retain its title, Clemson - which was hosting the championships for the third year running - kept things interesting by winning the Varsity 4 race, and finishing a solid second in each of the three races that the Cavaliers won.
“Every single one of our crews just came out and laid it on the line today and raced absolutely great,” said Clemson coach Robbie Tenenbaum. “From the Varsity 4 that won, to the other boats that came in second, everybody today had their best race of the year, and that’s what it’s about on conference championship day. I could not be more proud of them.”
With a winning time of 7:37.9 that beat 2nd-place Duke and 3rd-place Virginia, and which delivered Clemson’s first Varsity 4 title since 2009 (when the Tigers’ Varsity 4 won a National Championship), the crew of Carissa Richardson, Taylor Hoynacki, Katie Mosier, Rebekah Clogston, and Kenzie DuBrul staked their team to a points lead that still stood after the second (Novice) race and the Tigers’ 2nd-place finish behind Virginia.
“The Varsity 4 have been a little up and down all year, but they really came together and put it together when it really mattered the most, and that’s what racing’s all about at the championships,” said Tenenbaum. “It’s four seniors with a freshman coxswain (Richardson), and they wanted to extend our season and help our team qualify for the NCAA Championships, and to help us win a conference championship.
“That’s what they did today. They beat the No.1 ranked four in the country, from the No.1 team in the country, and by open water. They just had a great performance, and I’m so proud of them.”
After besting the Tigers in the 2nd Varsity 8 race, the Cavaliers had pulled level point-wise after three races, and that set up the winner-take-all scenario in the Varsity 8 finale. In clinching its 12th conference crown overall, Virginia posted a winning time of 6:27.9, while Clemson followed at 6:38.6. In total points, the principal rivals were trailed in the final tally by Duke (39), Boston College (27), North Carolina (18), and Miami (17).
Three veteran members of the Tigers’ Varsity 8 crew were named to the All-ACC Rowing Team, as seniors Becca Brown and Kate Biladeau were joined by junior Heather Cummings in earning that recognition for the first time in their careers.
“It’s a great honor to get, especially my senior year,” said Brown. “I’ve been working really hard, and it’s just great to get a reward for it. I am so proud of the team as a whole, and of every single boat. And I’m so proud of the four. It’s four seniors, and it was their last race at home, and their last ACCs, and they went for it and they got it.”
Reminded that it was also her own final regatta on her home-racecourse at Clemson, Brown said that she’s content with the outcome.
“I didn’t even think about it before the race,” she said. “I just raced, and then after the race, people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s your last time.’ And it felt good because I left it all out there. No regrets.”
With the Tigers’ ACC showing being the first of what Tenenbaum hopes will be a strong and sustained series of late-season successes, he believes his team can enhance its NCAA chances.
“I do think this team has what it takes to get to the NCAAs,” he affirmed. “We have one more race day scheduled, and it’s next weekend. We’re racing Ohio State and Harvard in the morning, and then Michigan and Harvard again in the afternoon. Harvard’s 12th in the country right now, and have beaten people that we’ve lost to earlier in the year.
“Ohio State and Michigan are both in the top-five or six, and this is an opportunity for us to go out and beat somebody that’s been beating a lot of people. We can prove to the selection-committee that our late season results show that we should be in the championship-field. And our team is fired-up, and ready and raring to go.”