Crew basks in glory of championship

Varsity Eight staves off Cal, Stanford in final race; Cavs win first team NCAA title in program history

May 30, 2010; Sacramento, CA, USA; The University of Virginia Varsity Four team of Coxswain Sarah Pichardo (right), Ruth Retzinger, Hunter Terry, Chelsea Simpson, Inge Janssen celebrate after winning the Grand Final during the Division I 2010 NCAA Women's Rowing Championships at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center. Virginia won the national championship in the team competition. (Special to the Daily Progress / Jason O. Watson)

"Getting married, the birth of my children, my children getting married, my faith, the national championship - those are all things that have been very special to me."

It seems to go without saying that Kevin Sauer's women's rowing team is something like family to the 16-year coach. To see the Cavaliers reach the pinnacle of their sport, then, was especially gratifying.

After banging on the door during the last couple years, the No. 1 Cavaliers topped California with a total of 87 points, giving Virginia its first team NCAA championship in program history. The Varsity Four led the way for the Cavaliers during the final day of the NCAA Championships in May, held at Lake Natoma in California. That bode well for Virginia, as the boat of sophomores Ruth Retzinger, Hunter Terry, Chelsea Simpson, junior Inge Janssen and senior coxswain Sarah Pichardo had not lost a race all season. The crew capped off its undefeated season by winning the individual national championship by more than a boat-length, defeating California by five seconds with a time of 7 minutes, 7.98 seconds. The Varsity Four became the seventh crew in school history to win a national championship and the first since 2007. The victory gave Virginia 16 points toward its team total.

Next up was the Second Varsity Eight, which needed to deliver a strong performance to remain in the hunt for a team national championship. Virginia finished fourth in the second race of the day, earning 26 points toward its team total. To be crowned national champions, the Varsity Eight had to place ahead of Stanford and California in the day's final race.

"Everyone was really relaxed, and we sat down the night before and said, "Why not us?" sophomore coxswain Sidney Thorsten said.

Virginia was slotted in an outside lane for the final race of the day. Yale set the pace from the beginning, closely followed by Princeton and then Virginia. At the halfway point of 1,000 meters, the Cavaliers led California by three-quarters of a boat-length with its first national championship in sight.

"In the middle of the race, I looked over, and we were six or seven seats up on California, and I was having this ... crazy feeling," Thorsten said. "The day before, we raced California in the semis, and they beat us so we knew it could go either way."

By the end of the 2,000-meter race, the Cavaliers had easily vanquished California and had nearly beaten Yale, losing by one second. While Yale celebrated its victory in the Varsity Eight, the Cavaliers rejoiced in their first-ever team championship. The Virginia boat added 45 points to increase the Cavalier team total to 87 - five ahead of second-place California.\nFive members of the national championship squad were named CRCA All-Americans: seniors Desiree Burns, Jennifer Cromwell and junior Katrin Reinert were named to the first team, while senior Helen Tompkins and Thorsten were named to the second team. Additionally, coach Kevin Sauer and associate head coach Steve Pritzker were named National Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year. With all these accolades, the Cavaliers now have bold ambitions for this season.

"I think repeating is one of the hardest things to do in sports, so I think it's a challenge, but I certainly can't predict what is going to happen in May," Pritzker said. "We have a lot of development to do and a lot of good attitudes out here and I think that is key. If you have people with good attitudes who work hard, anything can happen."

Three of the four rowers from the Varsity Four return; however, six of the Varsity Eight are gone, Sauer said. The Cavaliers have consistently built their team on depth and will be looking for people to step up and fill the void left by key members of last year's team.

"These are big shoes to fill, but I told the team that their feet can grow," Sauer said. "You can step up and do it. I have extreme confidence in what these guys can do. We are very confident they can step up to the plate and get the job done. Can we win another NCAA title? That is hard to do, but we are going to put ourselves in the hunt"

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