As the Whitman girls’ first eight passed under a bridge Saturday afternoon on the Potomac River, the boat encountered a wake, slowing its pace and splashing junior coxswain Jade Hughes in the face.
The Vikings were jockeying for position in the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Rowing Association championship with Bethesda-Chevy Chase, their longtime neighborhood rival. But rather than panic, Hughes spit out the river water and urged the boat forward. She banged on the sides of the boat and tried to pump up the rest of the crew.
“Yeah, Whitman! That’s it!” Hughes yelled. “That’s our trophy! We’re going to have it in our hands!”
Whitman fed off Hughes’s energy, pulling ahead in that moment and holding on to narrowly edge the Barons with a time of 5 minutes 9.7 seconds. Bethesda-Chevy Chase finished second in 5:11.1, with Walter Johnson a few lengths behind in third.
The Vikings also defeated the Barons in the WMIRA finals of the girls’ first eight last season. The two programs practice on the same river and have gone back and forth over the course of the season. Whitman won the first meeting but B-CC had won most recently, surging past the Vikings at the Maryland State Championship Regatta last month.
“We knew that they have a pretty sick sprint, because the other week we were winning and they walked through us in five strokes,” Whitman Coach Kirk Shipley said. “And so I was a little wound up about that, but it’s something that we fixed. And we were able to hold them off.”
Shipley had urged his crew to focus on its own plan and row its own race. But when the boat hit the wake, Hughes took a different approach, reminding the rest of the boat that the Barons would face the same challenge.
“Instead of just sitting there and thinking about the wake that hit us, we thought about B-CC getting hit by it, too,” she said.
In the boys’ first eight final, Gonzaga grabbed an early lead and won by more than four lengths, finishing in 4:19.8. Coach Marc Mandel was happy with the victory, but also pleased with how his crew handled the race.
“The last two races, we’ve been a bit unsettled, I guess is the best way to describe it. A little frantic,” he said. “The focus was just to establish a rhythm, row a little bit longer, just work on the flow. And we did a good job of that.”
Stormy conditions have been problematic throughout this season, and Saturday was no exception. After a calm morning, a heavy rain hit the Potomac — and spectators along the Georgetown Waterfront — in the early afternoon.
The rain had subsided in time for the finals, but the water was choppy and there was a noticeable headwind. Not that it mattered, according to Hughes.
“We’re Vikings,” she said, smiling. “That’s normal weather.”