Head coach Martin Stone has led Notre Dame to 10 consecutive BIG EAST Conference titles and six trips to the NCAA Championships since 2002, and will look to continue that success when the Fighting Irish move into the ACC in 2013-14.

Irish In The ACC: Rowing

July 29, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the month of July, UND.com and Fighting Irish Digital Media are featuring a multimedia series entitled “Irish in the ACC,” giving Notre Dame fans a sneak peek at some of what they can expect in the coming days, weeks and years as a member of the ACC through the eyes of each of the various Fighting Irish sports that will compete in the conference. Today, we take a look at the Notre Dame rowing program, which is not only the school’s newest varsity sport, but also one of its most successful as it looks to contend for championship gold in the ACC.

by Bernadette Cafarelli (Assistant Athletics Director/Athletic Media Relations Director)

Rowing was granted varsity status at the University of Notre Dame in the spring of 1996 and its first competition was in October of 1998 at the Head of the Rock Regatta in Rockford, Ill. In that first outing, the Irish lightweight varsity eight boat won its race to secure the program’s first-ever victory.

While the result that day didn’t make headlines, it did signal a beginning for a program that has been a hallmark of consistency at Notre Dame for the past 15 years.

Hired in November 1997, head coach Martin Stone had spent the previous five years at the United States Naval Academy where he led that program to the Division II crown. The first and only coach the Irish have known, Stone has been responsible for elevating, nurturing and building a national-caliber program.

As a member of the BIG EAST Conference, Notre Dame became the class of that league. The Irish have earned six trips to the NCAA championships since the program’s inception and claimed an unprecedented 10th consecutive BIG EAST crown in 2013, a streak that began with the first title in the 2003 season. Notre Dame finished no lower than second in the conference’s first two championships in 2001 and 2002 before winning its first crown the following year.

The string of 10 consecutive conference crowns was the longest active streak in the league’s final season and was second only to the Irish women’s and diving teams winning 14 consecutive titles from 1997-2010.

And how will the Irish fare in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Well, if final rankings are any indicator, then Notre Dame will be head into the ACC as one of that league’s top teams. In the final ’13 Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA)/USRowing Coaches Poll, only one current ACC school — Virginia at No. 5 — earned a higher finish than Notre Dame’s 13th-place spot. Clemson ended the season 18th-place finish poll, while Louisville, who will join the ACC in 2014-15, was 20th.

Relatively speaking, rowing is an emerging sport at the Division I, II and III levels. The first Division I NCAA championship was held in 1997 and prior to the Big Ten’s Ohio State winning this year’s Division I crown, the ACC, Pac-12 and Ivy leagues have combined to stand atop the podium in 16 of the 17 championships.

Brown has proved to be the most dominant team with seven NCAA crowns, while Pac-12 foes Washington (three), California (two) and Stanford (one) have combined for six titles.

Virginia has hoisted the trophy twice, winning its first title in 2010 and followed that up with its second crown in 2012.

Notre Dame’s first two NCAA appearances were in 2002 and 2004 with its varsity eight boats earning at-large berths. The Irish crews finished 16th and 11th, respectively in those first two competitions.

In 2006, the Irish earned a team berth and finished ninth overall. One year later in 2007, the Irish finished 12th in the team competition.

As a team, Stone and the Irish returned to the NCAAs in ’12 and finished 15th, followed by a 13th-place finish this past season. The Cavaliers held true to their No. 5 final ranking as they finished fifth in the 22-team field. No other ACC team besides Virginia earned an NCAA berth.

At this year’s championship, Notre Dame won the varsity eight C final, while the varsity four and second varsity eight finished third and sixth, respectively, in the petite finals.

As dominant as Notre Dame proved to be in the BIG EAST, Virginia has been the preeminent program in the ACC. Since the first championship in 2000, UVa has won 13 of the 14 conference titles. The Cavaliers won nine straight crowns from 2000-08 with Clemson taking the title in 2009. Virginia will head into the 2014 conference meet having won four consecutive ACC titles.

Annually, Clemson has been the conference’s second-best team as the Tigers have finished second to the Cavaliers on nine occasions.

With the inclusion of the Notre Dame and Syracuse rowing programs in 2014, the ACC championship will be comprised by an eight-team field that will also include Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia. The league will grow by one more team in 2015 when Louisville begins its first season of competition in the conference.

In addition to its two NCAA team titles, Virginia boats have captured eight NCAA individual crowns. The Cavaliers’ second varsity eight boats have finished first on three occasions (1998, 1999 and 2005), while the varsity eight claimed its lone crown in 2012. Virginia’s varsity four crew has been the program’s most dominant with four NCAA titles (2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010).

Clemson also has one NCAA individual title to its credit with the Tigers’ varsity four boat winning the 2009 grand final.

Over the years, the composition of the NCAA team competition has changed. In ’13, the team championship was comprised of 22 teams with 11 conference champions awarded automatic qualification. The remaining 11 slots were filled with at-large selections to complete the championship field.

Conferences with automatic qualifiers this year included: Colonial Athletic Association, West Coast Conference, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Patriot, BIG EAST, Big Ten, Conference USA, Ivy League, Atlantic 10, Pac-12 and ACC. The 11 at-large selections were comprised of the Ivy, Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences.

Teams qualifying for the championship as an automatic qualifier or as an at-large entry had three boats compete — varsity eight, second varsity eight and varsity four crews.

Virginia has made an appearance in the NCAA Championship in 16 of 17 years (the only time it failed to appear in the NCAAs was 2006) and has finished in the top four a total of 10 times. Clemson’s three NCAA appearances as a team occurred from 2009-11.

When comparing team standings at the NCAA Championships in the same years that the Irish, Virginia and Clemson all appeared in the team competition, it can be noted that when Notre Dame made its first appearance in 2006 (and finished ninth overall), no ACC team was in the field that season. A year later in ’07, the Irish finished 12th in the final team standings, while the Cavaliers took home the second-place trophy. Virginia’s national-championship campaign in ’12 saw Notre Dame finished 15th as the Irish were making their third-ever appearance in the team competition in school history.

The ’13 season proved to be one of the best ever for the ACC with three teams — Virginia, Clemson and Duke — appearing in the CRCA rankings. The Cavaliers began the spring as the nation’s top-ranked team, while the Tigers and Blue Devils also earned spots in the poll during the season.

In fact, when Virginia, Clemson and Duke each held spots in the Top 20 of the April 10 and 17 polls, it marked the first time in league history that three ACC teams were in the rankings in the same. In fact, had Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville been part of the ACC this past season, then the ACC would have had six teams appear in the rankings.

Since 2002, Virginia leads all ACC schools with 100 appearances in the CRCA polls. The Cavaliers have appeared in 64 consecutive polls dating back to the final CRCA ranking of 2006 and have made an appearance in 100 of 101 polls.

While the BIG EAST Championship consisted of six different races, the ACC Championship will feature just four races consisting of the varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity four and novice eight boats.

En route to its fourth consecutive ACC championship this season, the Cavaliers swept victories in all four boats and won the championship with 60 points. Clemson was second with 43 points, followed by Duke (41), Miami (27), Boston College (23) and North Carolina. In fact, there has been little change in the final standings over the last four years with the Cavaliers, Tigers and Blue Devils holding true to the top three positions.

Notre Dame won five of six races to finish with 151 points at thus year’s BIG EAST Championship, outdistancing Louisville (129) and Syracuse (128).

Stone and the Irish seem well positioned for a strong run in the ACC moving forward. While the Ivy, Pac-12 and Big Ten have dominated the NCAA field, look for the ACC to become a contender with multiple teams annually earning berth.

— ND —

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our Irish in the ACC series wraps up Wednesday with a look at the Notre Dame men’s and women’s swimming & diving programs.