For an onlooker along the shore, the red dots that line the final portion of the Occoquan River’s 1500-meter course may signify an end to a grueling race of strength and stamina, where usually strong deltoid muscles go to wither.
But to the crews on hand for this past Saturday’s Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships, those red dots simply meant it was desperation time. Because if you’re close enough — say less than a boat length away — anything can happen in those final meters, especially when a state title is on the line.
That was the case for coxswain JoBelle Cruz and the rest of the T.C. Williams women’s varsity second eight boat, who had a less than comforting lead over National Cathedral School heading into the final stretch of water.
“My contacts started falling out, everything was so blurry, and I just started freaking out,” said Cruz of her emotions. “We were going past [NCS] and I could hear their coxswain and then we just started shoving off and they were getting quieter and quieter.”
While some will argue winning a close race is what everybody dreams about, there’s nothing like the feeling of cruising into the finish line, knowing you’re the best around. In fact, Cruz probably described it more succinctly, “It was the best feeling in the world,” as she clutched her new gold medal after the Titans won the women’s second varsity eight race by close to seven seconds.
When they glanced down at the new trophy they had the earned, their accomplishment felt even better. The name “Thomas Jefferson” lined the side of the plaque, showing just how dominant a crew Jefferson has had over the years. In fact, they hadn’t lost the race in almost a decade.
“Look at that,” marveled coach Mercedes Kiss. “Our motto all year has been ‘Pay what’s due’ and I think they did that today.”
<b>THAT WAS JUST</b> one of the scenes at what amounts to a state championship meet in the rowing world. Several dozen crews from around the area came together on the Occoquan to determine who was the fastest, something the Titan women’s second varsity eight can now claim.
But the anxiety of a close race isn’t reserved for just the rowers. Take a look at the coaches pacing nervously along the coast as they watch their respective boat turn from speck in the distance to a speeding vessel en route to the finish line.
“The race is the worst part,” said T.C. Williams women’s rowing coach Jon Schildknect as he watched his lightweight eight boat in the finals. “All season you coach them and then you can’t impact the race at all.”
Whether he could have done better than the lightweight eight’s silver medal showing remains unanswered, but there was no shame in their 5:43.9 time. Also performing well for the Titans was the girls’ varsity first eight, who took home a bronze medal a year after finishing as state champs. But because first place went to NCS in the women’s varsity first eight race, the Titans actually finished second in the state.
In addition, the men’s varsity first eight boat won the petite final before Yorktown High School of Arlington emerged victorious in the grand final to close the afternoon. Next up for the T.C. Williams crew program is this weekend’s Stotesbury Cup in Philadelphia, essentially rowing’s version of a Mid-Atlantic championship.