There was a lot of history on every Saint Ignatius rower’s mind going into Saturday’s Rustbelt Catholic Championship against Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Canisius.
Last year at this time, Central nearly swept every event, and then later completed a clean sweep of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Varsity eights at the Midwest Championship. In 15 or more years of racing against their Pittsburgh rivals, the Wildcats had never swept the eights at the Rustbelt. It’s just a really tall order against a perennial national champion contender.
On Saturday, however, the Cleveland crews won the day, with victories in the 1st Varsity 8 (Christy C. Wiegand Cup), 2nd Varsity 8 (Frances A. Previts Cup), 3rd Varsity 8, and Freshman/Novice 8 (Danny Murphy ’12 Memorial Cup). With these victories, the Wildcat Navy also claimed the Bro. Richard Grzeskiewicz Team Points Trophy.
“This is definitely a significant day for our program,” says third-year Head Coach Connor Walters ’09. “We have known that to be among the best rowing teams in the nation, we need to beat the best teams, and Central certainly is among them. Today reaffirms that the work we’ve been doing for the past three years is really paying off.”
Sunshine and warm weather made for a beautiful morning of racing on Lake Milton, a state park near Youngstown, Ohio. The crews raced the 2,000-meter course with a slight cross tailwind and otherwise perfect conditions.
Starting off the day was the 3rd Varsity 8 event. The Wildcats’ 3rd and 4th Varsity crews shot out in front to an early lead and dueled most of the way down the course, with the 3V crew breaking away toward the end for the win. The 5th Varsity eight hung close to Central Catholic’s entry for a while, putting up an admirable performance despite finishing fourth.
Next, in the 2nd Varsity 8 race, Saint Ignatius and Canisius shot off the line quickly. While the Canisius crew faded back and Central passed them, the Wildcats continued to edge out, slowly adding to their lead, which ended up in a 15-second victory over Central.
The Freshmen 8 event brought a real battle for all the crews. Central Catholic jumped out to an early and significant lead, while the two Saint Ignatius crews and the Canisius boat jockeyed for position. Near the halfway mark, however, Central’s shell encountered an equipment malfunction and veered off course. The Wildcats’ Freshman 8 crew charged forward to claim the Danny Murphy ’12 Memorial Cup, with the Saint Ignatius Novice 8 finishing in third. The trophy is named for Danny Murphy ’12, a member of the Wildcat Navy who died in an ATV accident in the fall of his sophomore year.
“It is unfortunate that Central’s equipment malfunction didn’t give us a chance to see how we stack up against them for the full race,” says Walters, “But our guys stayed ready, and it is really special to bring the Murphy Cup home for just the third time.”
By far the most thrilling finish of the morning was in the Varsity 8. Canisius and Central Catholic claimed early leads over the Wildcats, who steadily clawed their way back into contention as Canisius fell away. The last half of the race was a battle, with the lead exchanged multiple times until the boys from Cleveland surged at the end to win by about 1 second.
The final race of the day featured three Novice 4s, one from each team. Canisius steadily built a lead over Central, who led Saint Ignatius. And while the margins did not change much after that, each of the crews was aggressively battling through the finish line. Canisius took first over Central, and the Wildcats finished third.
This annual race between Central and Saint Ignatius has featured a variety of other teams over the years, but the two rival schools nearly always renew their friendly competition every spring. Since 2010, a points trophy has been awarded, and 2022 marks just the second time that Saint Ignatius will have its named etched on its base.
“I’m proud of our rowers and our coaching staff for this result today,” Walters says. “This is something that everyone has earned. But we must have short memories now. We have to begin to focus on what’s next. This group has set bigger goals, and we cannot let up. In fact, we need to double-down on what’s gotten us here.
“I know that everyone is up for the challenge.”
Saint Ignatius, 6:06
Central Catholic, 6:07
2nd Varsity 8
Saint Ignatius, 6:17
Central Catholic, 6:32
Saint Ignatius 1F, 6:37
Saint Ignatius 1N, 6:57
Central Catholic, 7:04
3rd Varsity 8
Saint Ignatius 3V, 6:33
Saint Ignatius 4V, 6:37
Central Catholic, 7:06
Saint Ignatius 5V, 7:16
Central Catholic, 8:05
Saint Ignatius, 8:09