But it was the host school from Grand Valley State University that had plenty of reason to cheer, especially due to its women’s varsity rowing team. The Lakers took the gold medal in the top event and won the regatta’s overall points race. The men’s team also shined, taking second in the top varsity race.
It was the fifth-straight year GVSU had hosted an event on Spring Lake, and Saturday featured a tremendous turnout with 13 schools, 130 boats and more than 600 athletes in attendance.
The event is named after Grand Valley State’s first president, Arend (Don) Lubbers.
The GVSU women battled through windy, cold conditions to capture the gold medal in the women’s varsity eight 2,000-meter grand final — the Nancy Lubbers Cup — while the men were edged by a mere 5 seconds by an outstanding team from the University of Virginia in the varsity eight 2,000 grand final — the Don Lubbers Cup.
The Lakers’ women finished in 7 minutes, 29.92 seconds, followed by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Brock University (Ontario, Canada), Eastern Michigan, North Park University in Chicago and Marquette University.
An athlete who enjoyed the West Michigan hospitality was Hudsonville graduate Kelsey Arnold, a member of the GVSU varsity eight team.
She said she had several friends, family and former rowing teammates in attendance, and they witnessed a tight fight to the finish.
“We were even from the start, and we were still dead even with the Coast Guard at about 500 meters,” she said. “Once we moved through the docks, where all the spectators were standing, we took a push and pulled ahead. Then we kept inching further ahead until the finish. It was a really run race.”
Grand Valley State women’s coach Dennis Kamrad said his team fed off the loyal support.
“You can’t help but enjoy all of the hospitality from the community,” he said. “It’s like having a home-court advantage in basketball. You could just feel the energy from the fans.”
Arnold, who was a three-sport standout at Hudsonville, said she was persuaded to join the rowing team from friends that were on the squad. Now a senior at GVSU, she’s one of more than 40 that make up the women’s varsity and novice teams — a club sport at the school.
Grand Valley’s men’s teams feature more than 80 athletes — one of their largest squads ever.
Lakers’ men’s coach John Bancheri was proud his team was able to defeat Brock Univeristy, the defending champion in the event, but they couldn’t catch Virginia at the end. Brock finished third, followed by Michigan State, Ohio State, and the Coast Guard.
“We were neck-and-neck with Virginia most of the way, but that last 100 meters, they were able to break away,” Bancheri said. “This is one of the lightest teams we’ve had, and I think that made a difference. Virginia had some big guys and facing those head winds, they were able to generate more speed.
“The level of competition here was outstanding. I was telling our guys this is the best level of competition we can get.”
Including time trials, there were nearly 30 novice and varsity races held throughout the morning and early afternoon on Spring Lake.
Grand Valley’s spring season resumes next weekend at the Knecht Cup in Cherry Hill, N.J. The Lakers’ season concludes on May 26-29 at the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s National Championships in Gainsville, Ga.