After flying across the country to compete at the Canadian University Rowing Championships, the Mustangs returned home with new hardware.
Having taken the Ontario University Athletics by storm, the group looked to find team victory again at the national level. Neither team was able to capture the prestigious national championship banner, but both stepped onto the podium.
Amidst elite competition, the men’s team secured second place for the second year in a row and the women’s team placed third.
Men fall just short of gold
For the men, gold was certainly within their reach but they missed the mark ever so narrowly. Just two points behind their top rival, the University of British Columbia, every single event made a difference.
Of the six events the teams compete in, if the Mustangs had placed one place higher in any one of those single events, they would be national champions.
“We came within just a hair of doing it this year. It is disappointing,” said men’s head coach Dan Bechard. “But we ran into a team that was certainly ready to fight and just got a little bit ahead of us.”
Though the Mustangs did not capture the team title, they were able to bring home gold medals in two single events.
In the men’s heavyweight pair, Curtis Ames and Ryan Clegg literally sailed away with the win. Clear favourites heading into the championships, the duo has been posting impressive numbers all season and are the reigning champions of this event. From start to finish, Ames and Clegg showed great control and secured the win with poise.
And Ames was recognized as the Canadian University Rowing Association’s male athlete of the year.
The Mustangs' other victorious campaign came from the lightweight men’s four. The team of Patrick Gogan, Dan Sullivan, Connor Newell, Alex Brandt and James Doyle was down for the first kilometre of the two-kilometre race.
But, without giving up, the group came together and pulled ahead in the race's second half.
“The last kilometre was just a gutsy race, they were able to get ahead of UBC and ended up winning by a sizable margin,” said Bechard. “It was just pure guts in the last kilometre of that race.”
"Gusty" captures the essence of the team’s attitude throughout the championship.
“The entire team stepped up and put everything they had on the line,” said Bechard. “They gave everything they possibly could and I am very proud of how I felt as though they performed.”
Women's team rallies to bronze, with heavyweight eight in first
On the women’s side, the Mustangs team secured the third-place position by a sizable margin.
A true team effort, the women’s group continues to demonstrate the irreplaceable value of teamwork.
For the first time in almost a decade, the Mustangs took home gold in the heavyweight women’s eight race. UBC has had this event locked down for years but the Mustangs showed up to change that.
The race was very close with plenty of back-and-forth between the three leading boats — Western, The University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria. The Mustangs were behind to begin with, but worked hard to build a lead through the middle.
In the last 250 meters, their competitors tried to close the gap. But with the lead the Mustangs had developed, they hung on and secured the gold.
Winning the heavyweight women’s eight is a testament to of the depth and strength of the women’s team as a unit.
“The win in the eight didn’t come because we had some of the best athletes in the country in our boat, but because the women worked really well together,” said women’s head coach Matthew Waddell. “What they didn’t have in standout fitness or standout size, they made up for in desire, their chemistry and their ability to work together.”
Yara Ensminger, a key performer in the women's eight, played a big role in setting the pace and cadence that allowed the team to win the eight. A gifted individual rower, Ensminger also came fourth in the heavyweight women’s single.
Other standout performances came from the lightweight women’s four team, the heavyweight women’s pair and the lightweight women’s single, who all scored bronze in their respective categories.
Another hugely successful season for the Mustangs rowing program, both groups head into a short off-season before they return to training, readying themselves to take the national title next year.