When you send your best to a competition, you expect to be met with a challenge. Perhaps that challenge is an opposing team you’ve been unrelentlessly scouting for the past four months, or maybe it’s troubling weather. It could even be as simple as competing outside the familiar confines of your home turf.
But rarely might you ever think that hypothetical challenge is from some of your very own, that the only team standing in between you and the spoils of victory are the same people you practiced with to get to that spot in the first place.
For Cal men’s crew on Saturday, the latter was that challenge.
In both the Las Vegas Invitational and California Challenge Cup, the blue and gold reigned supreme. Each team sent out to the waters won every race it competed in, with the one exception of a Cal versus Cal Newport Beach finale.
During their short stop in Nevada, the Bears faced up against two out-of-state crews: the Dartmouth Big Green and Oregon State Beavers. Both hold strong resumes from last season and offered a decent amount of resistance to the otherwise unobstructed success in the 2,000 meter dash.
The top and second boats of Cal bested Dartmouth by approximately nine and 15 seconds, respectively. In the pair of races, the squads patiently advanced their way to victory stroke by stroke, showcasing the stability and composure of seniority.
Against the Beavers, the Bears further widened the time gap between the opposition. Finishing a whopping 20 seconds before Oregon State in each of their two convincing wins, the day of rowing perfection had slowly started to manifest itself.
“The wind was favorable and didn’t pose much of an obstacle. It helped us ultimately zero in on beating the competing crews,” said senior varsity coxswain Brett Cataldo.
Down in the sunny beaches of Southern California, the Bears defeated a total of six different teams, with both the third varsity and freshman eights finishing a combined 8-0. The successful preliminary heats earned each a spot in the grand final, pitting two boats under the same banner against one another for the Challenge Cup’s fifth annual showing.
Before the last head-to-head race of the regatta, Cal’s third boat crushed teams scattered across all of California, including the likes of UC Irvine, UC Davis, Orange Coast College and UC Santa Barbara. The Bears kept consistency, reaching the finish line in around three minutes and thirty seconds with an average time differential of almost 15 seconds.
Meanwhile, the newly assembled freshman bunch of Bears sailed through their own scheduled matches, eliminating some of the top varsity teams representing Santa Clara University, UCLA, UC Davis and Orange Coast College.
“Having multiple races in Newport was the perfect setup for some of the young guys to learn a lot from this first weekend,” said Cal head coach Scott Frandsen.
Once Cal swept the slate of competition, the Bears’ C and D teams squared off in what would become the most exciting match of the day. As the starting signal fired, each boat came out the gates swinging, paddling at remarkably similar stroke rates in the first few seconds. When approaching the finish line with a handful of strokes to spare, the crews dug hard and deep, pushing their way tooth and nail with their eyes on the prize: a glistening silver Dylan Ayres Memorial Cup trophy.
In a nail biter finish of 3:36.815 to 3:37.959, the victor that won by a fraction of over one second was none other than Cal’s B team, a freshman boat full of eager, young Bears.
Starting off their spring season run with a flawless record of rowing, Cal will now prepare for its next big event in April: the San Diego Crew Classic. Although this weekend’s results bode well for the team moving forward, Coach Frandsen is ready to get his squad back into the business of practice as usual.
“We’re always building towards the Pac-12 and National Championships. Any promising race early on in the season helps us concentrate on the final two months of spring,” Frandsen said.
Ryan Chien covers rowing. Contact him at