For the first time since 2015 the University of Victoria Vikes men’s and women’s rowing teams will be out on the Fraser River to battle for the Brown Cup this coming weekend when they meet the UBC Thunderbirds in a quartet of head-to-head eight boat races scheduled for Saturday, April 7.
While the past two editions of the Brown Cup have taken place on the Vikes home waters of the Gorge Waterway, the crews from UVic will have to travel to enemy territory this weekend where they will compete on a course that runs along the Fraser River.
Modelled after the world-famous Cambridge vs. Oxford contest, so famous it is simply known as The Boat Race, the Brown Cup will see the Vikes and T-Birds break free of the usual lane racing of regular regattas and instead battle it out crew against crew along the twisting Fraser River.
“The Fraser is probably a little more fair than the Gorge but one boat will always have the advantage on an inside corner,” said Vikes head coach Rick Crawley. “The main corner is slighter than the Gorge corner but our crew is strong enough to overcome that disadvantage if they are on the outside.”
While UBC will definitely hold the home course advantage, both the men’s and women’s crews spent a weekend on the Fraser in the middle of February to gain familiarity with the waterway.
“We did Trial 8s to give our guys a sense of space and time,” said Vikes head coach Aalbert Van Schothorst. “Trial 8s are absolutely key for preparing for success, but we will be putting the last pieces of our race-plan into place when we get there. Our practice Friday will solidify some of those key components.”
The packed day of racing will begin with the women’s reserves hitting the water at 10:15 a.m., followed by the men’s reserves just ten minutes later.
The varsity women’s race will then get underway at 10:45 a.m. with the varsity men’s race capping off the day at 10:55 a.m.
Both of the marquee races, the men’s and women’s varsity contests, promise to once again go right down to the wire.
On the women’s side, the Vikes have undoubtedly held an advantage over UBC throughout the season.
The varsity eight boat pulled off the sweep in the fall season, earning gold medals at both the Western Canadian University Rowing Championships as well as the Canadian University Rowing Championships. Not content to rest on their laurels, the team went to work over the winter and emerged back onto the water in grand style, capturing gold at the Elk Lake Spring Regatta in a time that was clocked as the fastest any women’s eight boat has rowed on the lake that also serves as the Canadian National Team’s practice grounds.
In a rivalry as steeped in tradition as this one is however, Crawley knows that his team can’t get caught focusing on their past results.
“We are not taking anything for granted. UBC didn’t go to the San Diego Crew Classic two weeks ago so they have been preparing specifically for the Brown Cup on their home course. I told my crew that you can expect UBC to challenge hard at the beginning of the race and that they just have to be relentless and push.
“Going in, we know we are fast but it’s a different race on a different course and we don’t know how UBC has developed.”
On the flip side of that equation is the Vikes varsity men’s boat, who will be hoping to overcome a talented UBC crew that bested them at both the WCURC’s as well as the CURC’s.
“That varsity eight is extremely solid, UBC has some great athletes in there and they did a really good job last fall,” said Van Schothorst. “It will be two phenomenal crews going toe-to-toe and it is great to have this level of competition right next door.”
A lot of hard work has been put in by the crew over the winter and Van Schothorst is pleased with the progress that the crew has made heading into the weekend.
“We are developing a level of maturity and familiarity throughout the year that you want to see. We are seeing new speed in our boat every day, and it’s sustainable speed, so it’s nice to see that progression happening as we get close to race day.”
With this being the last regatta of the spring season for the Vikes, the Brown Cup will take on an added level of importance for a number of reasons.
For 35 years Crawley has been at the helm of the Vikes women’s rowing program and this Brown Cup will mark his final regatta in charge of a team that he has dedicated his professional life too. In his time with the Vikes, 29 of Crawley’s athletes have gone on to compete at Olympic Games and his program has captured 12 of a possible 21 Canadian University Rowing titles.
The race will also be the final one for seven graduating athletes who have all contributed immensely to the Vikes program.
Graduating from the women’s team will be: Olivia King, Kirsten McKay and coxswain Cassidy Fernandes. King and Fernandes will be both be in the women’s varsity boat, while McKay will row with the reserves.
“Losing that level of experience, leadership, what they’ve committed to the program and how the program has been built around them is pretty big,” said Van Schothorst.
For Donaldson it will also be the final time that he and his brother Isaac suit up in the Vikes blue and gold with both brothers poised to play pivotal roles in the varsity crew.
Rick Crawley, Vikes head coach
“I’m pretty sure UBC is going to work on going really hard at the beginning because that’s where we have got them this year.
“We went over for Trial 8s so that the coxswains would become familiar with the course. We switched our boats from side to side to let them learn the currents and the fact that there might be a log in the middle of the river.”
Aalbert Van Schothorst, Vikes head coach
“There’s a perceived advantage on the Fraser River but if you’re the better crew than it doesn’t matter what side you get. We work hard to not need to worry about that.”
“We are going to miss Taylor Perry and Patrick Keane in the crews. They are going through World Cup selection with the national team and that is going to have an impact, but we are confident in the crews that we have put together and are excited to see how they go.”
All-Time Brown Cup Titles