The American Athletic Conference rowing championship once again belongs to UCF as the Knights claimed their fifth consecutive team title Friday at the U.S. Rowing National High Performance Center in Oklahoma City.
In addition, the Knights placed seven on the all-conference team. Marija Medelinskaite, Nicole Mayer, Grace Lindberg and Julie Poulsen earned first team honors, while Edvina Nesukaityte, Elena Esteban and Luci Derrick were named to the second team.
With the title, the UCF rowing team and the UConn women’s basketball program remain the only two women’s sports to achieve the feat of five consecutive titles in The American.
Capturing that fifth-straight title wasn’t easy. With weather looking to be a factor all weekend, the championship was moved up to Friday morning and the order of racing was reversed.
The Varsity Eight, now the first race of the day, rowed to the start only to be delayed after high winds and debris damaged lane lines at the start. A second delay due to a breakage prompted the event to be moved back yet again.
“They went out and they handled themselves very well and relied on each other as a team.” — Becky Cramer, UCF head coach
“It’s been a crazy year,” UCF head coach Becky Cramer says. “Our team has really gotten used to expecting the unexpected. They went out and they handled themselves very well and relied on each other as a team.”
Instead, UCF’s Second Varsity Eight opened the racing. Coming in as the favorites, the squad of Elena Esteban, Aly Derksen, Lauryn Bench, Maria Yim, Rusne Dziugyte, Shannon Perry, Michaela Gundrum, Rachel Rabinowitz and Abbie Pritchard, delivered to win the event for the fifth straight year. The crew held off SMU to post a winning time of 7:09.336.
“We just wanted to get the momentum going and light a little fire under our teammates so they could go into their races feeling confident and ready to make all of us proud,” Rabinowitz says.
The Varsity Four picked up a title of its own, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back in an open water victory. The squad of Ciera Jarrett, Chiara Ciullo, Jessica Matteson, Paula Parks and Amy Van Ryn crossed the line in 8:07.240.
“It’s been an incredible season; I’m glad to be a part of it.” — Jessica Matteson, UCF rower
“It’s just in indescribable feeling,” Matteson says. “These girls worked so hard. It’s been an incredible season; I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Following a new scoring pattering in 2019, the Varsity Eight race rounded out the scored events. In order to defend its team title, UCF would need to finish in the top two. The crew of Nicole Mayer, Lara Maule, Julie Poulsen, Grace Lindberg, Mia Cleary, Leslie Lajoie, Marija Medelinskaite, Edvina Nesukaityte and Luci Derrick crossed the line second in 7:19.181 to secure the team title.
Rowing becomes the fifth program at UCF this year to win a conference trophy, joining football, men’s soccer (regular season), volleyball and women’s tennis.
UCF has earned The American’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship for the fifth-straight year. UCF’s teams have produced one of the most well-rounded and successful years in school history during the 2018-19 season. In addition to women’s rowing, the Knights’ volleyball, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s and men’s tennis and women’s golf teams all clinched NCAA Tournament berths while the football team appeared in its second straight New Year’s Six bowl game.
The Knights now set their sights on the 2019 NCAA Rowing Championship, which is set for May 31-June 2 in Indianapolis, Indiana. UCF matched earned the highest seeding in school history in all three events: Varsity Eight (No. 18); Second Varsity Eight (No. 16) and the Varsity Four (No. 15).
Last year, the Knights posted the fourth straight top 20 team finish at the NCAA Rowing Championship in Sarasota.