As the Drexel men’s varsity heavyweight eight boat came floating toward the grandstand after its race, a resounding applause welcomed them home.
It was the sound of Drexel making history.
The Dragons’ crew team, who had never won the decorated Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta, etched their name into the event’s prestigious record book by winning the overall points total Saturday in front of their hometown fans.
“It’s great to bring it back to Philly,” senior captain Kurt Linton said. “Rowing here every day, putting in the work and seeing it come to fruition right here on the home river — it’s great.”
Drexel compiled 45 points to best Grand Valley State University’s 33. To do so, the Dragons piled up the gold medals, earning first place in the men’s novice heavyweight (05:54.723), women’s JV heavyweight eight (06:50.013) and the men’s varsity pair (07:03.697). They also placed second in the men’s JV heavyweight eight and third in the women’s varsity heavyweight eight.
But it was the men’s varsity heavyweight eight that punctuated the day along the Schuylkill River.
Entering the heat, Drexel was slated as clear underdogs to perennial power Florida Institute of Technology. The Dragons, though, won in impressive fashion, jumping out to a sizeable lead and never relinquishing it with a time of 05:42.605.
“We’ve always had a quick start all year,” Linton, a South Jersey native, said. “We were just relaxed, focused, we knew what we had to do. It wasn’t anything magical, it was just, we put in the work [and] we knew what it was like.”
The other eight that joined Linton in the upset were Marc Smith, Casimir Czworkowski, Mike Faust, John Pieper, Sebastian Ryan, Lorenzo Albala, Aleksandar Radovic and Vanja Busic.
“I can’t be more proud of these guys,” Linton said. “I absolutely don’t take credit for it; it’s a group thing and that’s a cliché thing, but it really is. It’s nine guys just motivating each other and it was just thrilling.”
For Drexel, the mystique of the Dad Vail was all the motivation needed, but add in the fact that the Dragons fell two points shy last season of their first-ever Dad Vail crown, and Drexel needed no reminder of its main goal.
“Since that finish last year, it was definitely in everyone’s minds,” Linton said. “It never had to be said, it never had to be written down. Everyone knew what the goal was and this was it right here.”
Saturday marked the 75th Dad Vail, which consisted of 127 schools, making it the largest collegiate regatta in North America.
“This is our biggest event,” said junior Elizabeth Campanella, who won gold with Drexel’s JV women’s heavyweight eight group. “We’ve put in so much hard work, waking up early mornings and we really push each other to do our best.
“I really think this day has proven that.”
Prior to Saturday’s finish, Drexel crew had won 11 gold medals, seven silver and 14 bronze at the Dad Vail, dating back to 1958 — but never a team championship.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Drexel’s director of rowing Paul Savell said.
Is it now Drexel’s time for rowing supremacy?
“It feels good, it feels good,” Savell said. “I think so.”