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The Wildcat Navy Protect Their Midwest Crown

By Carter Burke ‘24 and Bryce Whittier '24, 05/24/23, 1:30PM EDT


For the 12th time in program history, the Wildcat Navy was crowned Midwest Champions and go back-to-back.

MILFORD, Mi - On May 13 and May 14, the Wildcat Navy competed at the Midwest Championships, looking to defend their title from 2022. The Cats headed to Milford, Michigan, on Friday, May 12, seeking to qualify multiple boats for the National Championships in Tennessee. 

In the J8 boat, each launched 20 seconds apart and rowed 100m into the 1400m piece. These can be difficult because it is just you and your crew; no one is in the lanes next to you. You can only try to catch the boat ahead of you. The Cats had a great row, finishing first in the time trial, with a time of 4:29.737, 12.650 second ahead of second and securing the best lane, lane 4. 

The boats began and all the coxswains screamed their different starting sequences. The Wildcat Navy had a phenomenal start and were ahead by the time into the central part of our race piece. The Cats were battling it out with Central Catholic, the long-time rivals. The Wildcats would win the semi, having the best time in all the heats: 4:55.699. The Cats would compete the following day on Sunday in the finals.

To start the weekend for the V4 Boat, the team of Carter Burke, Griffith Kowalski, Owen Anderson, Henry Demers and Chas Knittel competed. The event went very well, with the boat qualifying first at a time of 5:01.2. 

The afternoon was the start of the semifinals for the 3V8 events. One of the most significant rewards of rowing is the connections between the people in your boat. This sport forces you to get to know the people in your boat (in a good way) from the daily two-hour practices on the water. 

During this time of the season, the people in your boat start becoming more family than peers, which is a great inspiration to give everything you have during races. It was also essential to not let the seniors down. The boat of Carter Burke, Porter Hill, Griffith Kowalski, Andrew Bulic and James Casper has been together for almost over a year now and most are graduating, making Midwest possibly their last crew race ever. 

Saint Ignatius boats would be in the middle two lanes for the final and both New Trier boats that finished second surrounded the Wildcats, the complete opposite from last year's 3v8 final. It's great to have another boat push you; competitiveness brings out the fastest version for the Wildcats.    

In the 2V8 boat semifinal, it was a standard 1500m race. Seven boats line up on the starting blocks, heading to a head-to-head race. Starting from lane one and ending in lane seven were the following schools: Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Saint Ignatius, Forest Hills Central, Cranbrook Kingswood, Roosevelt, Montgomery Bell Academy and Loyola Academy. 

Sunday was a windy day in Michigan, but it wasn't unfamiliar territory for the Wildcats with their practices on the Cuyahoga River. The Cats lined up on the starting block, lane four. In lane three, Orchard Lake Saint Mary's; in lane five, the Midwest rivals. Because of the wind, it was a quick start, and the Wildcats started shortly after maintaining alignment down the race course. After the beginning, the Wildcats were ahead of the rival boats and kept adding distance as the piece went on. The Cats would finish at 5:08.435, 9.238 seconds ahead of second place. 

The victory made the Cats the fastest J8 in the Midwest, qualifying the J8 for Nationals. The Cats rowed to the victory dock to receive the medals and plaque. Standing on that dock in front of a crowd of spectators, teammates and parents is one the best feelings for the team. 

The team received our medals from the coaches and coxswain and took a picture. Standing on that dock makes the months of training feel rewarded. After they returned to land and celebrated the victory, New Trier came over to shake hands and congratulate us in a show of true sportsmanship. The job still needed to be finished, however. The 2V8 final was in 2 hours. 

It was another quick start. The Navy began in lane four; to the left was New Trier and Central Catholic. Both boats jumped ahead at the start, and 750m through, the Cats were down a boat length. The Wildcats began grinding the other boats' leads'. 500m left, they brought up the rate and started to pushed down on the gas, preparing them for the 250m sprint. 

The Wildcats made the boat length gap into six seats, then four, and finally down to a seat or two ahead. The last 250m was the most demanding racing the Cats may have seen. Everyone's legs were burning and the Cats had tunnel vision. However, the finish horn was called twice before crossing the finish line. It was a heartbreaking 1.5-second loss. 1.5 seconds that separated the Cats from first place and .8 seconds from second, which was needed to qualify the boat for Nationals. 

On Sunday morning, the V4 event began the final day of competition at Midwest. There was a headwind, but luckily, rowing in the wind for Cleveland teams is very common. The phrase "Advantage us" has prepared the Cats for any conditions during the season. The V4 event was competitive and came down to the final strokes. After a hard-fought battle, the V4 boat finished in second behind Forest Hills Central by roughly two seconds. It may not have been the finish the Cats wanted, but it was a race they could learn from and recover for the V8 events.

It was time for the 3V8 final event. The whole race, the Cats were trying to gain more and more seats away from the second-place boat. This led the Cats to finish the first 8.3 seconds in front of the second-place boat (4v8, St. Ignatius Cleveland B) and 15.2 seconds in front of New Trier A. The Cats rowed up to the champions dock and the coaches brought out the plaque and medals.

When the events were all said and done, the Wildcats protected their Midwest Crown and placed first at this year's Midwest Championships; it is the 12th Midwest Title in program history. Multiple boats have qualified for the SRAA National Championships, held on May 26 and May 27 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.