The Orange Coast College rowing program has grown fond of its nickname.
Established in 1953, Orange Coast is the only community college in the U.S. with a rowing program competing at the highest level of the sport collegiately.
Henceforth, the Pirates have become known as “Giant Killers,” taking on the top four-year programs across the country.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Orange Coast proved itself once again, sending five boats to the American Collegiate Rowing Assn. national championships at Lake Lanier in Georgia.
The Pirates advanced to the grand final with four of their boats, bringing home a pair of national championships among their first-year rowers.
Orange Coast won the men’s novice 8+ grand final, completing the open-water race in 6 minutes 14.994 seconds. The Pirates beat Virginia (second, 6:19.390), Michigan (third, 6:20.506) and Notre Dame (fourth, 6:26.190), among others.
Brendan Jacob served as the stroke seat, and Gracie Rullo was the coxswain. Tyler Holdaway, Mike Baldwin, Kai Wilding, Marcus Morrow, Tim Kraemer, Ben Annunziato and Matthew Bagale were also in the boat.
In the men’s second novice 8+ grand final, Orange Coast won with a time of 6:21.685. The Pirates beat a field that included Michigan, Virginia, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA and Minnesota, with the competing schools finishing in that order.
Orange Coast’s second novice 8+ boat had James Suther manning the stroke seat. Ash Wright served as coxswain. Joel Whaling, Jeremy Bernstein, Ray Gazzo, Brandon Ramirez, Logan Berg, Kyle Cannon and Collin Hackett made up the rest of the crew.
Those in the national championships had the distinct privilege of competing at the site of the 1996 Olympic Games, which were in Atlanta.
Pirates assistant coach Steve Morris, who competed for Orange Coast as a coxswain in 1989 and 1990, said that more than half of the rowers in the program come aboard as walk-ons, arriving with no prior experience in the sport.
“To explain to them that this is the site of the 1996 Olympics, they’re wide-eyed,” said Morris, who agreed with Pirates head coach Cam Brown’s assessment of this being the most dominant freshman class in the country. “The Olympics are essentially the pinnacle of this sport. It’s still an amateur sport.
“There’s no professionalism, so that’s about as high up on the food chain as you can get.”
The races are contested at the Olympic distance of 2,000 meters.
Orange Coast also placed sixth in the men’s varsity 8+ petite final, an impressive feat when one considers the potential deficit in years of experience. Student-athletes can only compete for a community college through their sophomore season.
“[Four-year university] varsity boats could have all seniors in them, and you’re going against [them with] four freshmen plus four sophomores, essentially,” Morris said. “Just from a maturity level, or how long they’ve rowed in college, we’re certainly the underdogs.”
UC Irvine won the men’s second varsity 8+ petite final in 6:24.429.
The Pirates’ varsity 8+ team finished 14th out of 32 schools, clocking in at 6:27.553.
Joe Battisti (stroke seat), Cambria Stirrat (coxswain), Dominic Feist, Alex Sobrato, Cole Guild, Colin Crawford, Cole Villa, Spencer Lewis and Colin Stipe sat in the varsity 8+ boat for the Pirates.
Orange Coast also finished eighth (7:47.789) in the men’s novice 4+ grand final, and the Pirates placed eighth (6:31.511) in the men’s second varsity 8+ grand final.
UC Irvine won the women’s double sculls C final in 10:34.207.
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