It’s often overlooked midst the hours upon hours of waiting, anticipation, and preparation that go into a crew regatta like last Saturday’s Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships on the Occoquan River, but ultimately a rowing race comes down to a simple goal: be faster than any other team.
For 41 years, the Yorktown crew had succumbed to this cruel reality, never once taking home a state title thanks to the presence of local powerhouse Thomas Jefferson, who defeated the Patriots last year by a slim 2.4-second margin in the men’s varsity first eight race.
After this past weekend, though, the history books will need to be re-written. The Yorktown varsity first eight boat outraced the entire field in the day’s premier event for the first time in school history, in the process becoming the lone state champion from Arlington in the past 20 years. Joining them in the winner’s circle were the men’s varsity second eight and women’s varsity third eight, to complete the most successful state championship meet ever for Yorktown rowing.
“This is the greatest day in Yorktown rowing history,” said coach Andy Bacas, who rowed for Washington-Lee when he was in high school and became the Yorktown coach three years ago.
“We had 41 years of Yorktown rowers in that boat with us,” said senior Eric Young, a member of the first varsity eight boat.
<b>ENCOUNTERING ANYONE</b> who has ever been a part of the Yorktown crew program since it began in 1968 and their first reaction to what took place Saturday was “long time coming.”
As the men’s varsity first eight boat approached the shore to dock following their victory Saturday, Bacas thought back to that exact moment a year earlier, when the team neared the shore to accept its silver medal.
His rowers were in tears having just lost to Jefferson yet again. Sure, it was frustrating to know that a 41-year-old trophy case would remain mostly devoid of state titles, but it was even more demoralizing that the program kept falling short to the same team.
Maybe that was because they put too much pressure on themselves. Last year, Bacas and his rowers devised a plan to start strong and force the issue even more in the middle of the racecourse, but the strategy backfired as Yorktown died down the stretch.
With another year under their belts, the book was thrown out the window and the Patriots “had no planned moves, just constant pressure,” according to the coach. Following the memorable finish, the Patriot first varsity eight rowers weren’t quite sure how they had done it, but they were sure happy to be wearing gold this time around.
“There’s still a whole lot of emotion,” said Young. “It feels a lot better than a year ago to be just one place different.”
<b>IT’S BACAS</b> that many around the program say deserves much of the credit for the revitalization of Yorktown rowing. He took a team that finished fifth in the state in 2006 and in one year had the Patriots in second place, behind only Jefferson.
But as in any sport, becoming one of the best usually isn’t the hard part. Becoming <i>the best</i> is where it gets tricky. Rowers and coaches alike point to an annual spring break trip in South Carolina instituted by Bacas, where the team rows seven hours a day for a week, for giving them a boost in recent years.
It has also helped that this year’s senior class happens to be one of the most naturally gifted in school history. Or as 6-foot-1 senior William Lomax, a member of Yorktown’s state champion varsity second eight boat, put it, “You can’t teach tall,” adding that he is one of the shortest upperclassmen.
But perhaps the biggest transformation involved the tried and true phrase of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” With Jefferson already so successful, Bacas and company had their template already in place. This season they even brought in a coach, new women’s varsity coach Carol Dinion, from Jefferson. She promptly led the Yorktown girls’ to their own new, historic heights. The Patriots won the women’s varsity third eight after finishing third in their heat in qualifying, while the women’s varsity first eight finished in second behind only a crew from the National Cathedral School, making them the fastest in the state of Virginia.
“This is not just a day,” said senior Ian Suvak of the men’s varsity first eight. “It has been in the making for at least the past two years now.”
Then again, once the starting gun is shot, all of the variables that came together to create the most spectacular day the Yorktown crew has ever seen didn’t really matter. The Patriots simply moved their boats faster than anybody else in the area.
“Once we get closer to the finish line, you just pull harder,” Bacas said of what the deciding factor was this year. “And I think they just decided they really wanted this.”