WEST WINDSOR, N.J. — After both races in the NCAA Division II Rowing Championships were completed, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Humboldt State party as tears of joy fell for the Jacks’ first-ever national championship.
“We’re going through waves of emotions,” said V8+ five-seat Alex Torquemada. “I keep crying and laughing. It’s amazing.”
Eighteen years ago, Humboldt State rowing became an intercollegiate program and head coach Robin Meiggs has been with it every step of the way. Meiggs has turned the Jacks into a high-caliber program, but she won’t take all the credit for it.
“None of this would be possible without Patrick Hyland, Adrienne McConnell and Ashley Donnell,” said Meiggs. “It was a great collective effort by the coaching staff.”
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The road to nationals started back in August when one of the rowers wrote on the dry erase board in Hyland’s office a countdown to New Jersey. As the days passed, the numbers got smaller and smaller until it was finally time to compete.
“To see the actualization of that dream was really exciting,” Meiggs managed to get out behind tears. “I really felt they would do it this year. It was the calmest I’ve ever been in my coaching career. I’m so proud of them. I told them yesterday I would have no regrets because we had done everything we could have done.”
Feeling confident after dominating Friday’s preliminary races, HSU’s four boat took an early lead and never looked back. At the halfway mark, the Jacks had already broken contact with three feet of open water in between them and the two teams battling for second and third: Nova Southeastern and Western Washington, respectively.
“The Fours were feeling very loose and exceptionally confident heading into their race,” said Meiggs. “There was never any doubt in their mind. We expected people to adapt their race plan for today, but we took off those seats and kept going. They said they were going to race it more aggressively than they had all season and they did.”
With 500 meters left in the race, and a half boat length separating the Jacks from the Sharks, Nova Southeastern tried to make contact once again with Humboldt State, but the Jacks powered ahead to grab the event title, clocking in at 7:42.96. The win marks the second time in program history HSU has won the fours title after winning it back in 2004.
Just minutes before the V8+ race, the NCAA showed coverage of each of the boats, focusing in on the student-athlete’s faces. Unlike the defending champions Western Washington, who looked very serious, Humboldt State, full of smiles, waved to the cameras and appeared very calm.
“One of the things I really wanted to emphasize to them was how loose they had been Friday,” said Meiggs. “Before they went out, we talked about how we knew it’d come out to inches and I really encouraged them to not get too puckered. When they showed their faces before the race on the jumbo screen, you could see them laughing and smiling. It was a great thing to see.”
As the boats took off, Nova Southeastern’s coxswain raised her hand in the first 100 meters to indicate her boat had experienced breakage. Breakage allows a race to stop and restart in the event of equipment malfunction, if it is acknowledged within the first 100 meters. If a team falsely claims a breakage (meaning there wasn’t any equipment malfunction), however, the team is awarded a warning; two warnings result in disqualification. The rule has been a long-standing tradition at all levels of rowing, including the Olympic level, but will change for the 2013 season.
“I think the false start could have gone one of two ways,” said Meiggs. “We could have gotten nervous, but Katie Harris did a great job to keep them focused.”
Following the restart, Western Washington jumped out in front with Nova Southeastern and Humboldt State not far behind. Halfway into the race, the Jacks had moved into the second spot with a two-seat lead against the Sharks, but were still seven seats behind the Vikings.
“Western Washington raced their normal race, but adapted their race plan to a faster racing speed,” said Meiggs. “I really respected [WWU's head coach] for doing that. They stuck to their race plan and stayed confident.”
Coming into the final 500 meters, the intensity elevated extremely as the Jacks started to make their move, taking one seat at a time off Western Washington’s lead. With 250 meters left, Humboldt State pushed harder than ever to move into the lead and crossed the finish line to complete the upset against the seven-time national champions with a 6:48.84 time.
“In the last 500 meters, it was just us and Western, and we didn’t want them to win again,” said Torquemada. “It was fantastic; one of the best races I’ve ever rowed. I’m still in shock.”
After the races, the teams shook hands with their competitors, recognizing the hard work and devotion it takes to be a collegiate athlete—something Meiggs was very proud to see.
Since Humboldt State won both event championships, the Jacks won the team title outright, ending Western Washington’s seven-year reign. HSU picked up 20 points for the victory, followed by runners-up Western Washington with 13 points. Nova Southeastern sat just one point behind the Vikings and Mercyhurst finished with 5 points.
“We have a silver trophy from 2004, but I always told Pat I wanted a gold one,” said Meiggs. “It was great seeing them up there. Ultimately those trophies will collect dust, but it’s the experience that will stay with them the rest of their lives.”