Purdue triumphs at Dad Vail Regatta

Posted: May 11, 2008

In the mid-1990s, after spending six years as the rowing coach at Cornell, Dave Kucik moved back to West Lafayette, Ind., because of a family illness. His sabbatical did not last long, as the Purdue men's club program was looking for a new leader.

"I took over a struggling team," Kucik, 57, said. "We had to show the kids a few things about putting holes in the water."

Kucik has had the golden touch with the Boilermakers, who are now a consistent force on the national scene. In yesterday's 70th annual Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill, his squad repeated as the eight-man varsity heavyweight champion with a clocking of 5 minutes, 47.40 seconds.

"The program has grown a lot over the last six or seven years," said Purdue senior Pat Close, a 22-year-old who sits in the boat's No. 6 seat. "I think the Purdue name will be engraved on Dad Vail trophies for years to come."

With 36 points, Purdue repeated as overall (men's and women's) champion. The women contributed a third-place showing in the varsity heavyweight eight final and a junior varsity heavyweight eight championship.

Since Purdue's team is a club squad, not an intercollegiate program, Kucik said each rower pays between $2,500 and $3,000 to participate. "That's pretty hefty for the kids," he said.

Close, a native of Bozeman, Mont., said one of the keys to the men's success is Kucik's coaching style.

"He knows when to apply pressure on us and then when to calm us down," he said. "It's a fine line, and he knows how to walk it."

In a men's semifinal yesterday morning, Colgate posted a mark of 5:38.66 to surprisingly nip the Boilermakers (5:40.66). Said Kucik: "You look at it and go, "Wow.' " They showed real nice speed. We didn't get out of the gate well, and they held us off."

Purdue redeemed itself in the final, beating out runner-up Colgate (5:49.34) and third-place Temple (5:52.29).

"It's a surreal feeling," Close said after accepting his championship medal. "One of the big things for us was trying not to focus on being a repeat champion. The pressure of that could have gotten the best of us."

Kucik kept track of the Purdue boat while riding his bike. "As we got closer to the line, I knew it would be a sprint to the finish," he said. "Then it comes down to who can row higher and how many strokes you can get in."

Temple coach Gavin White said his Owls were in second place with 1,100 meters to go. "I don't think we could have rowed any harder," he said. "We got every ounce of speed we could get out of them."

In the women's varsity heavyweight eight final, Cal-Davis claimed the Evelyn Bergman Trophy with a time of 6:34.01. Following the Aggies, a first-year Division I school, were Sacramento (6:35.76) and defending champion Purdue (6:36.89).

"The girls in the boat are on the smaller side, but they work well together," Aggies coach Carissa Adams said. "I thought we could do it, but I knew it would be close."

With 29 points, Delaware was the men's champion, ahead of Georgia Tech (20) and Purdue (18). Overall, the Blue Hens (men and women) placed third with 29 points, behind Purdue and Grand Valley (32).

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019 or robrien@phillynews.com.

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