Over the weekend, the Texas rowing team chartered unprecedented waters when it competed and placed seventh in the 2015 NCAA National Championship. The team also landed its first top-five individual finish with the varsity eight.
In the program’s 19-year history, Texas had not previously made a team appearance in the championships. This year, however, the Longhorns earned their first bid after winning the Big 12 Championship.
First-year head coach Dave O’Neill said the team kept improving over the championship weekend and that was proven by the varsity eight’s fourth-place finish.
“They've become more experienced, more savvy and better skilled,” O’Neill said. “They kept getting better every day, and even here at the regatta they kept getting better.”
Texas held the fifth place spot for the first 1000 meters and then overtook Stanford on the last final for a finish of 06:27.165, right behind Ohio State, California and Virginia.
“We've become more conservative in how we race, rather than draining it all at the start,” Texas sophomore Pippa Loveard said. “We just kept going relentlessly and stepped up to gears I think we all knew we had but had yet to find this season. We just got faster and went harder.”
The three-day long competition in California on Lake Natoma led the Longhorns to a 99-point finish, making them the seventh-highest scoring team to compete out of the 22.
Just ahead of Texas in the overall team finishes at the sixth spot was Stanford with 100 total team points.
“We knew it was going to be tight for points one way or another,” O’Neill said. “If we had one more point we would have moved up a spot, but we're super happy.”
The first team to land points for Texas was the varsity four boat, which rolled in at 11th, boosting the Longhorns to 12 points. Texas’ varsity eight team added 57 points and 30 from its second varsity eight.
Texas competed in all three boats Saturday for the A-B semifinals in hopes of making it to the grand final race Sunday. The top three teams from each semifinal race advance to the grand final, and the bottom-three compete in the petite finals.
In the race that proved to be monumental in their path to the championship finals, the Longhorns varsity eight stayed neck-and-neck against Michigan. As the race proceeded, Texas pulled ahead to beat the Wolverines and take third place, earning a spot in the grand final race with a time of 06:34.173 — three seconds ahead of Michigan.
"Our first eight had a terrific race as they did exactly what we'd talked about doing," O'Neill said. "They're racing with a ton of composure and don't look like a crew racing here for the first time. I'm really impressed with all of them."
Although the team had unprecedented success this weekend, Loveard said the Sunday win was the “first stepping stone.”
“I think this program is going to go a long way. I'm excited for what we can achieve the next few years, but, dang, today was good,” Loveard said. “We've got to keep going onward and upward.”
Reigning National Champions and runner-up, Ohio State and California, respectively, took those titles again when their teams rolled in at the number one and two spots. The Buckeyes had a strong lead throughout the day and claimed a team total of 126 points, which California followed with 114-point total. Ohio State won its third-consecutive titles over the weekend.