On Sunday, May 15, Saint Ignatius Crew won its 11th Midwest boys team points championship (Full Recap). The Wildcats earned either gold or silver in nine different events at the regional regatta, with several qualifying for the national championships in two weeks. This story below by Joe Mertens '15 about the team's rise to success was written prior to the regatta and will appear in the upcoming issue of Saint Ignatius Magazine, set to hit mailboxes in a couple weeks. You can follow the team on Twitter and Instagram!
The Wildcat Navy comes into this season as potentially one of the fastest teams in program history. Building on last season’s national championship appearance, Saint Ignatius Crew looks to take their experiences and flourish in 2022. Led by third-year Head Crew Coach Connor Walters ’09 and outstanding senior leadership, the rowers are ready to prove themselves on the national stage.
Despite navigating through a pandemic, the Wildcat Navy has grown to more than 80 student-athletes, notably with an uptick in dual-sport members. “One of the biggest lessons I have learned about leading a team throughout a pandemic is that we determine our destiny,” says Walters. “Together with the coaching staff and rowers, we have created a path that has, to date, been successful. We have had three different seasons that have been altered by the pandemic, which has given us time to explore what it takes to be resilient and to overcome challenges.”
St. Joseph’s University commit Patrick Miklus is a senior captain for the Crew this season. Miklus raced at nationals last spring and was part of a strong Varsity 8 this past fall. “There are four seniors on the boat that have been to nationals and know what it takes,” Miklus says. “We are trying to share that experience with the other guys to succeed in multiple races.”
To begin the 2022 spring season, the Wildcats traveled to Clarendon County, South Carolina, for spring training at Camp Bob Cooper. “The spring training week is a key for our program; this year, it was the first time we traveled with 80+ student-athletes since 2019,” Walters says. “We use that week to build team unity heading into the new season.”
“Overall, we are positive heading into the spring season; we will be doing 2-3 practices a day at spring training before our first race,” explains Miklus. “We are looking to perform well at those first couple of races to build momentum for the season.”
What makes the Wildcat Navy unique is the brotherhood built through the sport. “The biggest draw for me was the camaraderie,” says junior captain Jacob Kucera. “We are in a less than two-foot wide boat; it is impossible not to get close to the guys around you. The brotherhood is what draws people in.”
Since taking over the Wildcat Navy just prior to the pandemic, Coach Walters and his staff have had to navigate the unexpected adversity but discovered positives out of the troubling times. “Every day of these past two years, we have managed to find a way to keep going forward together. It’s a credit to our upperclassmen and our coaching staff that we are in such a strong position as the pandemic wanes. The commitment and drive these guys have shown is just remarkable. I am really proud of this team and equally excited to see what the spring will bring."
Thanks to the Wildcat Navy Capital Fund, a new fundraising initiative in collaboration with the Advancement Department, the Cats have been fortunate to begin an overdue upgrade to their fleet of equipment. Five new shells have been added, including one dedicated in March to President Fr. Ray Guiao, S.J. ’82. “Overall, I am excited and our chances are looking pretty good,” says Kucera. “A big thanks goes to our benefactors. We were able to get three new boats for the Varsity, and I have high hopes.”
The Wildcats opened the spring racing season at the Cincinnati Invitational on April 9 at Lake Harsha in Bethel, Ohio. This was a significant competition as it was the longest regatta of the season. Typically, the Wildcat Navy competes at a 1,500 meter distance, but it was a 2,000 meter race at the invite, which Walters calls a “good test to start the season.”
The Wildcats made history at the Rustbelt Catholic Championship when they swept perennial national championship contender Pittsburgh Central Catholic on April 23. “That race is where we will know how we are as a team,” explains Miklus. “Pittsburgh Central Catholic is one of the rivals we will face, so competing against our challengers will be nice.”
On the second weekend in May, the squad will race for another Midwest team points trophy. The Wildcats will look to qualify several boats in that race to head to New Jersey and compete for a national title. “Our top-end speed may be the fastest we have ever witnessed,” says Walters. “Our top guys have the competitiveness to carry us to places we haven’t gone before. There are program ‘firsts’ still yet to be achieved. It doesn’t mean they are easy to pull off, but I like the potential of our guys.”
Through all the challenging work and dedication these past couple of years, there is momentum as the Wildcat Navy chases gold.