PHILADELPHIA — With their Stotesbury Cup Regatta gold medals dangling from their necks, the Gonzaga boys’ varsity eight crew team spun away from the photographer stationed on the platform to face the grandstand overlooking the Schuylkill River on Saturday evening and began singing their alma mater.
Teammates clad in Eagles purple joined in, their cheers filling the air. Rowers and supporters of other schools stood in silence, forced to watch as Gonzaga christened its fifth straight Stotesbury victory.
The Eagles won the 1,500-meter race comfortably in 4 minutes 16.04 seconds. Jesuit College Prep from Dallas (4:18.50) and New Jersey’s Lawrenceville (4:18.70) earned second and third, respectively. St. Albans (4:19.94) placed fourth.
Gonzaga junior Christian Tabash struggled to find words to describe the win.
“How does it feel? Uh. It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say other than I attribute this to our coach and my teammates and everyone that’s got me here. I wouldn’t be here without all of them. I’m just feeling grateful and blessed for everything I have.”
Moments earlier, as the boats neared the finish line, chants of “Let’s go La Salle!” were overpowering. But when the race was over, the result was the same it had been for the past five years.
The Eagles splashed their hands in the water and cheered, uninhibited by the chilly rain. A teammate yanked junior Joseph Johnson from behind and hugged him.
After singing the alma mater, the crew grabbed senior coxswain Woods Connell and chucked him into the water.
“It’s a tradition. We tried to beat the height that we got to at nationals last year. I think we did,” Tabash said.
“Warmer in the water, actually,” Connell said. “As soon as I got out, I started shivering.”
Senior Brian Kilner, who was on the winning boat last year, said it was sweeter to repeat. The Eagles’ first varsity eight hasn’t lost this season, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel any pressure.
“Every team is strong at this final,” Kilner said. “At any point they could have the perfect race and go right at you.”
National Cathedral’s girls’ varsity eight also found success in Philadelphia as the Eagles rode a 4:53.08 to victory over Merion Mercy (4:55.16) and Mount Saint Joseph (4:57.51) in the final. T.C. Williams was fifth in 5:01.25.
It was a momentous occasion for senior All-Met Hadley Irwin and Isabel Bogart.
“I’ve gotten silver twice,” said Irwin, who was on the Eagles’ boat that took second in 2013 and 2014. “We both have been thinking about this since we were little.”
As the race neared a close in the last 50 meters, senior coxswain Kendall Green looked “down the line” at her teammates’ faces.
“I [wanted to] come back down to earth because it just felt so surreal,” Green said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for so many years, and it’s just an amazing feeling. I’m still shaking.”
In other races, Walter Johnson took second in the varsity four (4:51.51), and T.C. Williams was second in the girls’ lightweight eight (5:00.76).