The Saint Ignatius Crew Junior 8 entered the weekend’s racing at the SRAA National Championships well-aware of the Wildcats' recent history in the event: a silver medal in 2017 and a bronze in 2018.
In 2019, the third time proved to be the charm as the Wildcats claimed the program's first-ever national championship in an 8-man event on Saturday, May 25, in Zanesville, Ohio.
The crew, composed of sophomores and juniors, staked out an early lead against four other Jesuit schools and Midwest rival Upper Arlington in the Grand Final. Saint Ignatius, in Lane Four, battled Gonzaga from Washington, D.C., in Lane Five, throughout most of the race. St. Joseph's Prep from Philadelphia and Belen Jesuit from Miami held on closely. No lead was safe, as the six competitors surged back and forth down the 1,500-meter course.
With about 500 meters to go, the Wildcats moved out further ahead of Gonzaga, which was chased very closely by Belen, St. Joe's and Canisius. In the last 250, Saint Ignatius pulled out definitively, creating an open-water gap that the field would not close.
As the flag dropped and the horn sounded, the nine young men from West 30th and Lorain threw their hands in the air and shouted in jubilation—brand new owners of a national championship.
Finish times officially put the Wildcats 2.9 seconds ahead of second-place Gonzaga, which edged out Belen by a mere half second. St. Joe's Prep and Canisius were less than a second behind Belen.
The gold-medal winning crew consisted of: coxswain Duncan Fraser '20, stroke Matt Skubas '21, Logan Burns '20, Eamon Coyne '20, Connor Snyder '20, Peter Turk '21, Nathan Taylor '21, David Bender '21, and bow Victor Yavornitzky '20. Saint Ignatius Crew's only other national title came in the Junior 4 in 2004.
For Saint Ignatius Crew, led by Head Coach Pat Connor '94, the victory capped a full weekend of racing at nationals, which included performances by the Freshman 8 and Lightweight 8.
The Freshmen threw down an aggressive performance in their heat on Friday, advancing to Saturday's semifinals. Saturday morning, the Freshmen gave the semi their best effort but finished sixth and did not advance.
In their event, the Lightweights raced hard in their heat but missed qualifying for the grand final by 0.2 seconds.
Saint Ignatius swept its heat, semifinal and then the grand final in the Junior 8. Despite the pair of first-place finishes in the heat and semi, the crew remained calm and knew that it would have to deliver a perfectly executed, gutsy race in order to keep the trend going. They delivered.
As the sun beamed overhead and temperatures crossed into the 80s, the champion crew celebrated in traditional fashion: with the ceremonial tossing of the coxswain into the lake. The rest of their teammates were present—and made sure their gold-medal-winning teammates got soaked, too. Then, they tracked down their Head Coach and made sure the man who is responsible for leading the Wildcats to newer heights at the national level during his eight years at the helm went for a swim as well.
Congratulations to all the members of this year's Saint Ignatius Crew and the newly crowned NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!
LET'S GO CATS!
For more race coverage, follow the team on @sihsrowing on Twitter and Instagram.