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This time last year, the Georgia Tech varsity rowing team was lamenting a disappointing defeat in the championship race.
With the novice quads scheduled in front of the faster varsity 8 boats, the Yellow Jackets' squad had missed a buoy in an attempt to pass a boat in front.
The resulting time penalty amounted to a second-place finish.
This time around, Georgia Tech again had to pass some quad boats.
But they did so within the navigational beacons, resulting in a comfortable 25-second victory in the premier Head of the South Regatta race Saturday on the Savannah River.
"It's tough, not only because of (the boats in front), but also because you want to know how you're doing," said fourth-year Georgia Tech rower Cameron Troxel, explaining the difficulties of staggering boats at the starting line instead of starting boats nose-to-nose. "But we were real strong, real smooth, and it just says a lot about our crew."
With a final time of 17 minutes, 49.6 seconds, the Yellow Jackets broke the 18-minute mark on what they called a tough, long course and took the overall regatta title with a total of 36, five points clear of second place Jacksonville University.
In the women's championship 8 race, the University of Alabama took the title with a final time of 20 minutes, 47.7 seconds.
The convincing 17-second victory didn't surprise Crimson Tide rower McKenna Frease.
"We've been practicing so hard for the last week, and we knew we were ready to compete," the third-year rower said.
"When we got back to the dock, the whole team was cheering for us. It was very satisfying."
In junior action, the host Augusta Rowing Club finished in third place with a total of 36, behind St. Andrews (Atlanta, 46 points) and Stanton College Prep (Jacksonville, Fla., 40).
Much of the credit for the bronze finish can be attributed to third-year member Alex Merrill, who had a memorable performance in his last junior fall regatta.
"I expected to win a race today, but three was stretching it," said the 17-year-old, who helped his team to victories in the varsity double (with partner Luke Pollock), 4 with coxswain and quad races.
"I think the early victories helped with confidence in the later race. As a senior, what a way to go out," Merrill said.
The quad victory, with a winning margin of "several minutes," as Merrill described it, put a final stamp on a solid Augusta performance, which began with a tight victory in the girls varsity double race.
With Tara Morgan preparing for another race, her teammate Ellen Bledsoe came to the dock to offer the good news.
Morgan responded by "jumping up and down on the dock" in response to the first victory for either Augusta member.
"This is just something to be proud of," Morgan said, pointing to her gold medal.
"You see the blisters on your hands as something you can show your friends to show you accomplished something. But we have the medals, too."
Reach Justin Williams at email@example.com.
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