Lake Lanier has become somewhat of a second home for Alex Crawford.
The University of Michigan rower has made eight trips to Gainesville during his college career — twice a year — to practice and compete in the American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championship.
“I just love how relaxed it is here,” Crawford said. “You can just focus on racing. Since 1996, it’s become kind of a miniature mecca for rowers.”
Sunday’s finals at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue was his final visit. The local waters were as kind as ever for the Wolverines’ senior.
Michigan’s men won five events and the Wolverines picked up their seventh straight ACRA national title, a streak that dates back to the association’s inception in 2008.
Crawford’s varsity eight crew took first in the regatta’s flagship event, defeating Virginia for the second straight time with a mark of 5 minutes and 44 seconds. Their time was two seconds faster than the Cavaliers, who finished third overall in the men’s standings.
“We know (Virginia) is really scrappy, so we were racing the whole way,” Crawford said. “Unlike other races, where it kind of settled in that we were going to win, this year I thought they would walk back in any second. We really had to push that sprint as hard as we could.”
Michigan’s 664 points was more than enough to pass UC-Santa Barbara (538 points) for the men’s team title.
Grand Valley State took first in the women’s standings with 358 points. UC-Santa Barbara scored the most overall points, men and women combined, in the regatta.
“This was the one of the deepest teams I’ve had,” Michigan coach Gregg Hartsuff said. “Almost every kid on my team here got a medal.”
The top-ranked Wolverines won the men’s quad, men’s novice four, men’s varsity four and men’s second-team varsity eight before closing out the regatta with the high-stakes men’s varsity eight victory.
Michigan has won five of the seven varsity eight races since the inaugural ACRA national championship regatta.
“Virginia, knowing how they race, we were not underestimating them,” Hartsuff said. “Had they done that, we would’ve lost today.
“It’s really great to have the season end this way.”
The Wolverines’ varsity eight, which features five seniors, still has one more race together. They’ll compete in Henley Royal Regatta on July 2-6 in England.
After that, it’s off to medical school for Crawford, who leaves the Michigan rowing program with the distinction of having been part of four national championship teams.
“It really is the whole team — it’s not one individual boat,” Crawford said. “That’s because we’re able to push each other every day, day in and day out, in practice. It’s a credit to everybody on the team and how deep the team is.”
Now in its fifth year hosting its national championship on Lake Lanier, ACRA continues to see the regatta grow in numbers each year. The 2014 installment featured 267 entries from 64 different clubs, including 29 in the men’s varsity eight.
ACRA was founded as an alternative collegiate rowing association for schools without an NCAA-sanctioned team. Currently, the NCAA only features women’s crews.
Hartsuff, who served as president of ACRA from 2008-2013, anticipates entry numbers to climb as collegiate rowing reaches unprecedented levels of competition.
“I think it’s on the verge of exploding, to be honest,” he said. “It’s grown steadily, but there’s still just a small handful of teams that could be here but aren’t. If they don’t start coming, they’re going to fall behind competitively.”
As for a change of venue, Hartsuff doesn’t expect the annual season finale to leave Lake Lanier any time soon.
Nor does he want it to.
“It’s kind of a home away from home, if you will,” Hartsuff said.
“This is a jewel of a community. I hope everyone realizes what they have here.”