Down, but not out
UCSD impresses at first NCAA tournament in five years
INDIANAPOLIS -- There was little Division II action on the water Saturday at the NCAA Rowing Championships, but to UC San Diego, just being there meant everything.
The sixth-seeded Tritons, who received an at-large bid, hadn’t even qualified for the championships since their back-to-back national runner-up performances in 2007 and '08 behind Western Washington.
But UCSD first-year head coach Colin Truex and his crew are working their way toward a comeback.
“The way things were shaping up this season, the way the Florida schools were performing, we were mentally prepared to just have the eight [qualify],” Truex said. “There was a good portion of the season where we didn’t even think we’d get that based on how we were performing early on. We’re happy with what we got, but next year we want more.”
On Friday, in its first NCAA appearance in five years, UCSD came in last in its eights heat behind Barry and fellow at-large team Central Oklahoma.
“We haven’t been here in a long time, so we had a lot of jitters going into Friday’s race and did well,” Truex said. “I thought we put a pretty good race together and can build on that. We got the jitters out and so I felt like we had a shot [on Saturday].”
The Tritons had one more opportunity to qualify for Sunday’s finals in a repechage race on Saturday morning against Western Washington and Central Oklahoma.
With choppy water and wind as the great equalizer, all three teams were within about a second of each other at the 1,000-meter mark. UCSD and Western Washington then pulled ahead, with the Tritons powering through at the end to finish in 7 minutes, 42.968 seconds, a second ahead of the Vikings’ 7:43.954.
“Looking at the times for this, Western and Central were really close,” Truex said. “When you get weather like this, the race plan really goes out the window. You have all this practice doing stroke ratings and starts and sprints, but then it just comes down to a slugfest -- who can row hard in the conditions and take the least amount of bad strokes. It was anybody’s game and it’s about who wants it in the end and we pulled it out.”
The tight race and challenging conditions were actually an advantage that fueled the young, gutsy Triton boat.
“They’re not very big and they’re not incredibly powerful, but they’re really scrappy,” Truex said of his squad. “This whole season we’ve just preached always fight to the end, whether you’re in the front or in the back. They’re going to go all out no matter what the situation is.”
It also helped that UCSD was facing one of its biggest rivals, which handed them a tough loss earlier in the season.
The Tritons’ V8 was on the other end of a photo finish, coming in .8 seconds behind then-No. 1 Western Washington in the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships at the end of April.
“Western is our West Region rival and we’ve been close all year 'round. Western’s been so fast for so many years that we’ve always just wanted to be with them,” Truex said. “They’ve established a good standard for DII Rowing and so we want to be like them and be within a second of each other again [in the finals].”
Truex isn’t putting too much pressure on his team for Sunday morning’s finals against Barry, Nova Southeastern and Western Washington. After all, they’ve already proven they’re one of the top four teams in the country and are racing for a national title.
“We have nothing to lose,” Truex said. “We’re already outperforming our seeding, so we’re kind of playing with house money right now and just going to give it everything we’ve got.”
This year was all about making a statement for the Triton program – they’ve been down, but don’t count them out.
“I think you’ll see us in the picture more and more in the next few years,” Truex said. “We’re starting something. We’ve got a young team and we’re building into something really special, so you’ll see us here again.”