Michigan takes Dad Vail varsity eight title over Purdue

Michigan's varsity heavyweight eight exults after beating Purdue to take the Richard O'Brien Trophy with a time of 5 minutes, 54.40 seconds. "It's amazing," coxswain Chelsie Melkvik said.
Michigan's varsity heavyweight eight exults after beating Purdue to take the Richard O'Brien Trophy with a time of 5 minutes, 54.40 seconds. "It's amazing," coxswain Chelsie Melkvik said.
Posted: May 10, 2009

Shouts of "Go Blue!" greeted Michigan rowers yesterday after they held off Big Ten Conference rival Purdue to claim the men's varsity heavyweight eight championship in the 71st annual Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill.

On a sun-splashed afternoon, the river was calmer and carrying less rain-driven debris than in previous turbulent days as the top-seeded Wolverines triumphed in 5 minutes, 54.40 seconds. The fifth-seeded Boilermakers were second in 5:57.69.

"It's amazing," Michigan junior coxswain Chelsie Melkvik said. "The feeling is great. This gives us some momentum for our last couple of races of the season."

With 30 points apiece, Delaware and Buffalo shared the overall (men's and women's) championship. The Blue Hens and Michigan tied for the men's title, with 28 points each, and Buffalo (30) took the women's crown.

Dad Vail, North America's largest collegiate rowing regatta, showcased 122 schools and nearly 3,300 rowers. Michigan won the men's varsity heavyweight eight for the first time since 2005. Temple's semifinal clocking of 5:42.21 was not good enough for a berth in the six-boat final.

"These guys are a real confident group," said Gregg Hartsuff, the Wolverines' head coach, now in his 18th year. "Their confidence shows in the first 20 strokes or so. Once they get going, it's like a freight train that can't be stopped."

On the women's side, Grand Valley State, a Division II club team from Allendale, Mich., stroked to a first-place finish in the varsity heavyweight eight. With a clocking of 6:41.20, the Lakers beat out runner-up Buffalo (6:45.21) and third-place St. Joseph's (6:46.77).

After claiming a silver medal in the Division II and III varsity heavyweight eight races in each of the last three years, Grand Valley State, at the urging of stroke Sarah Zelenka, opted to move up and compete at the top level in the Dad Vail.

Said fourth-year coach John Bancheri: "Sarah said, 'Coach, I want to take a shot against the best teams out there. If we can even win a bronze medal, that would be great.' "

Bancheri, who began his rowing career in 1973 at Atlantic City High, built winning programs at Wichita State, Charleston, and Marietta. He went to Grand Valley State after his contract at Marietta, despite a successful 12-year stint, was not renewed.

"I thought at that point that my coaching career was over," Bancheri, 49, said. "I thought I was exiled. My wife, Jill - who doesn't even like rowing - wouldn't let me quit."

The Lakers took second again in the Division II and III women's varsity heavyweight eight. They were runners-up to Mercyhurst College, from Erie, Pa. For the Mercyhurst women, who won in 6:50.20, it was the first gold medal at Dad Vail.

In the men's varsity lightweight eight, Delaware was victorious in 6:12.47. The Blue Hens' boat included three Philadelphia-area products: coxswain Tim Reilly and No. 4 seat Mike Sciblo, both of St. Joseph's Prep, and No. 2 seat Paul Mattson, of Monsignor Bonner. After the win, Reilly's boatmates followed tradition and tossed the 5-foot-6, 130-pounder into the river.

Bucknell, with Mount St. Joseph graduate Katie Rose Leonard in the No. 2 seat, captured the women's varsity lightweight eight in 7:15.25.

In midafternoon, Temple claimed top honors in the men's junior varsity heavyweight eight. With a showing of 6:12.51, the Owls edged runner-up Jacksonville (6:15.00) and took the Ernie Bayer Trophy back to North Broad Street.


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

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