The sun shone down on the victorious UVic Vikes women’s varsity rowing crew as they hoisted the Brown Cup above their heads Saturday, having won the prestigious race run on one of the most picturesque waterways in the world.
The University of Victoria women’s varsity eight crew raced head-to-head with the UBC Thunderbirds to the cheers of alumni, family, and community lining the three bridges the race passed under – Selkirk Trestle, Bay Street Bridge and Johnson Street Bridge.
“This is bigger than Nationals for us because UVic and UBC are the two best schools in the country,” said captain Larissa McKinlay who rowed the four seat in the varsity eights. “You take these two schools and make the course longer and more tactical just makes it more intense. There’s also so much history in this event.”
While many rowing regattas feature a 2,000-metre course, the Brown Cup pushes rowers to almost double that, running 3,600 metres from the bridge at Tillicum down to the Inner Harbour.
The Vikes came through the final stretch with over a boat length of a lead clinching them a second-straight Brown Cup title.
— Keri Coles (@KeriColesPhotog) March 30, 2019
For Barney Williams, this was the first Brown Cup race as head coach for the UVic Vikes women’s rowing. In 2018, the former Olympian and national team member was introduced as successor to Rick Crawley, who retired from coaching the women’s rowing program after 35 years.
While Williams is a very different coach than his predecessor, Aalbert van Schothorst, head coach of the Vikes men, said Williams has harnessed the incredible 35 year legacy of Crawley and has added his own strengths.
“It is a culture of courage and ‘never enough’ – courage is actually the strength of the boat,” said van Schothorst. “They had courage in spades, that showed today. They were slightly behind at trestle. To turn that around requires mental fortitude. They had open water at the end.”
“Barney has prepared us really, really well since we got back on the water in February,” said McKinlay.
The winning crew was coxed by Lily Copeland and stroked by Piper Battersby and was the last race as a varsity athlete for captain McKinlay.
“They just absolutely executed in my mind the perfect race,” said Williams. “They capitalized on their opportunities but they also really were agile and where they needed to be. The first half of the race they were really under pressure and we said ‘bend but don’t break’ and the second half was the reward for that for sure.”
The Vikes varsity men’s eight conceded the Brown Cup title this year to the UBC Thunderbirds, after winning it the past three years. Although UVic has a distinct 20-8 overall titles, the two teams have been much closer in the past decade.
— Keri Coles (@KeriColesPhotog) March 30, 2019
UVic came out of the gates confident but a stagger at the start for the Vikes boat allowed UBC to control the race from the front, said van Schothorst.
“From the start line all the way up we fought and fought and didn’t know where they got away from us but where we did our best work was out on the water. They were just the better boat today,” said Vikes captain and six seat rower Alec Stapff. “Some mistakes were made because it’s racing and nothing will be perfect but there isn’t a single guy in that boat that didn’t give it their all. Guaranteed every single one of them went into that pain cave.”
The Brown Cup was the last race for graduating seniors Daan Arscott, Luc Brodeur and Brett Larson.
“There is nothing in Canada that matches this race. There is so much history. To have your name permanently engraved on this piece of legacy. You put yourself in the realm of the greatest athletes in Canada,” said van Schothorst. “Even the opportunity to have a chance to race is a privilege.”
The rivalry steeped in tradition sees the race alternate each year between the Gorge Waterway in Victoria and the Fraser River in Vancouver and draws on a unique team dynamic.
“There is no such thing as an MVP in rowing,” said van Schothorst. “The whole point of an eight-person crew is for the individuals to be invisible. This is the most underappreciated part of this sport. From the outside it looks elegant but from the inside they are tearing themselves apart. You taste the iron of your blood.”
UBC also captured wins Saturday in the men’s and women’s reserve races that preceded the varsity races.
In the men’s race, the Thunderbirds came through the final stretch after the Johnson Street bridge with a convincing lead and though the young Vikes crew had a strong push at the end, UBC crossed the line first.
In the women’s reserve race, the UBC Thunderbirds crew came through the Johnson Street bridge with a significant gap to take the Campbell-Dowd cup title.
Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.