Gonzaga Coach Marc Mandel figured that St. Albans would start fast in Saturday’s Foley Cup race on the Anacostia River, so when he met with his boys’ first eight on Friday, he preached composure.

St. Albans not only fell to Gonzaga at last year’s Foley Cup, but also at the prestigious Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia, and in the Scholastic Rowing Association of American championships in Camden, N.J. The Bulldogs appeared on their way to reversing that trend on Saturday, pulling ahead by half a boat-length early and putting the Eagles in an unfamiliar position.

But the Eagles gave Mandel the composure he asked for, and Gonzaga surged ahead to capture its second straight Foley Cup, by nearly nine seconds.

“Often when that happens, a group can get rattled, but they stayed relaxed and stuck with their game plan,” Mandel said.

“Once we stopped the bleeding a little bit, we slowly started reeling them in. We’ve rarely ever in the last two years had to row from behind, so that was a real test.”

In the day’s other top race, the girls’ first eight from National Cathedral cruised to an easy victory over Georgetown Visitation to keep the Carr Cup, which goes to the winner of that annual matchup. National Cathedral, also a defending SRAA champion, finished in 5 minutes, 35.4 seconds, well ahead of Georgetown Visitation’s 6:04.9.

For Gonzaga, the triumph over St. Albans was a meaningful accomplishment, but just the first of more significant clashes ahead.

“Gonzaga and St. Albans are two of the best programs, and we have such a history of being in close proximity to each other,” said Eagles senior David White, who is in his third year with the first eight. “And it’s the ‘God Cup,’ the biggest race of the year. Especially this year and last year, we’ve been two of the best programs in the region but also nationally, so it’s a big indicator of future success.”

Gonzaga had to dig down once it faced that early deficit. A strong headwind and current made conditions poor. If they had been much worse, the teams would not have been able to race, Mandel said.

Still, the Eagles pulled together, caught the Bulldogs around the halfway mark and never looked back, taking a 6-4 edge all-time in the Foley Cup. The adverse conditions helped raise their time to 4:47.8, ahead of St. Albans’ 4:56.4.

“It was kind of the worst best race ever,” White said.

The teams will meet again in two weeks at the Stotesbury Cup, then again at nationals. Mandel said the Bulldogs are “notorious for getting faster.”

White said the Eagles must stick to the adage, “Race like you’re in first place, train like you’re in second.”

“We know they’ll be pushing hard to get us at Stotesbury, so we have to push harder,” he said.