Laker Navy races varsity teams in San Diego

Nick DeMaagd

Rowing is a club sport at Grand Valley State. Funding is limited and the pool of talent is limited to walk-ons.

That didn’t stop the Laker Navy from racing alongside some of the best programs in the nation over the weekend at the 42nd San Diego Crew Classic. GVSU squared off against varsity teams like Stanford, Navy, Texas and UC Berkeley at the event, and performed well.

“It’s extremely exciting to see that we can be within a couple boat lengths of top programs from around the country,” said men’s coach John Bancheri. “When the men raced on Saturday and went punch for punch, stroke for stroke with Stanford, I was really excited.”

GVSU’s men took third on Saturday, finishing seconds behind Stanford (6:04:00) with a time of 6:06:99. The Laker women fared just as well on the first day of competition, taking fourth (7:12.76) amidst the likes of San Diego, UCLA and Victoria. With the jitters of the first day over and a well of confidence from Saturday’s placings, the men’s and women’s teams took fifth (6:11.35) and seventh (7:08.16), respectively, on Sunday in the Copley Cup Invitational.

In their first regatta of the season, or series of races, the Lakers proved they were worthy.

“It was really eye-opening and just kind of shows how you rank among other programs,” team captain Lexie Benton said. “It’s the fastest competition we’ll see all year. We can get better and be something more.”

Even before the trip to San Diego, Bancheri knew the team would have good speed this year. He said he noticed during practice and training in Florida that the men would be fast, but that even the men were surprised when they took third on Saturday.

“A lot of our work came in from rowing on the rowing machines to get faster,” said captain Austin Burris. “In the winter, we mainly worked on our physical shape to train our bodies to row at a high level. The results we get now and for the remainder of the season are showing the work we put in this winter.”

The teams had a lot to race for going into this past weekend’s event after learning about the passing of Bancheri’s sister earlier in the week. Both teams wore colorful ribbons in her memory to show their support.

“I was really touched and moved,” Bancheri said. “They had my back through this and, being part of the team, you push each other at times and support each other at times. It’s nice to know that you have that kind of support. My family was moved also.”

Bancheri, who had flown out to San Diego on Thursday for the teams’ practice, was unaware they would be wearing the ribbons.

“He puts everything he has into the program and when he gets upset like every other coach can, it’s because he cares,” Benton said.