Courtesy of Ohio State Athletic Department
The sun glimmered against the Scioto River on a warm and quiet Wednesday morning as the Ohio State rowing team gathered at the year-old Griggs Reservoir Boathouse, a building tucked against the river bank more than five miles from campus. As the team gathered to unload their boats for the final time of the year, amid the smiles and laughs, there was the presence of an impending goodbye.
Only three days earlier, the No. 4 OSU rowing team’s First Varsity Four took home the gold medal in the 2012 NCAA Division I Championships, bringing the Buckeyes their first national title in program history. Second Varsity Eight earned a silver medal, securing a fifth-place overall finish of 67 points for OSU.
Alexandra Sawatzki, freshman coxswain on the First Varsity Four, said the title of national champion is still settling in, but has come from nothing short of hard work, dedication and the building of a strong team bond.
“It’s a little surreal actually,” Sawatzki said. “We had planned to go out there and win it, and we had every intention of doing so, and having it actually happen, it took a while to set in. But it’s awesome – probably the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Sawatzki said that although the feeling is somewhat dreamlike, the goal was real and was established long before their boat met the water of Lake Mercer in West Windsor, N.J., on Sunday.
“It’s been a year-long effort, we sat down as a team at the beginning of the year and said, ‘What are our goals?’ and one of them was to win NCAAs. I think that was sort of in the back of everyone’s head all year, and there were just unbelievable amounts of work that went into it,” Sawatzki said. “It took a lot of mental strength, with all the things that got thrown at us before we actually got into that lineup.”
Coach Andy Teitelbaum said the team’s fifth-place overall performance this weekend was “a great finish” to a season complete with not only medals earned at the NCAAs, but also three gold and three silver medals from the Big Ten Championships. Teitelbaum said the accolades are a testament to the high performance standard throughout the program.
“It was extremely exciting. It was a great regatta for a lot of the athletes, and their performance and the gold medal in that event was sort of the topping of the regatta for us. It was a great weekend for the team as a whole and having a boat win a national championship in their event, and our first national championship, was a great moment,” Teitelbaum said.
Katie King, a sophomore on the First Varsity Four, said that although the win feels surreal, the team will use the success of the First Varsity Four to motivate the entire team to continue working toward more titles.
“Watching the race back, I’m like, ‘How did we even do that?’ But, it’s awesome. It’s the best feeling ever,” King said. “We had a really, really tight team this year and everybody was like a family all year,” King said. “It’s extra motivation to keep the fours doing well, and then also maybe move some of the people from the four into the eight and try to get the eights to do better. We’re still looking for that title for the whole team.”
Taylore Urban, a sophomore on the First Varsity Four, said the cohesiveness of their boat contributed to their success by giving the team a strong sense of unity.
“We were a really close boat on and off the water. I think that’s what made our season so special. Being in a four, it’s nice because you really get to know each and every one individually,” Urban said. “What they like, what they dislike, what makes them angry, what they love; and we used all of those things to make a great boat: fast and one that was just fun to be around.”
Although the seniors’ time with the program has come to an end, Teitelbaum said they will be leaving the program in a state it has never seen before.
“It starts with your seniors, but it was a big team and a lot of boats were fast in every event, so from the fifth-year seniors right down to the novices, I think that, as a group, they really just sort of established a new standard for the training culture at Ohio State,” Teitelbaum said. “It’s really gratifying for coaches, and a relief for the coaches, to see a group that’s willing to set a new standard for the amount of work that they’re able to do.”
As the team gathered together to unload the boats for the final time, the reality of a quickly approaching goodbye surfaced and the feelings of the closeness the team formed over the past year were very much present. But that didn’t stop them from hanging out as they always have.
“It was our first day off, and we were still voluntarily spending time together,” Sawatzki said.
The girls all laughed.
“We still had to make sure we got together one last time,” Urban said.