Friendly foes face off
Barry, Nova Southeastern vie for first championship crown
INDIANAPOLIS -- For Division I, it’s North Carolina and Duke, Texas and Oklahoma, Michigan and Michigan State. But for Division II’s neighborhood rivalry, it’s Nova Southeastern and Barry.
“I used to coach at the University of North Carolina, so I’m aware of rivalries with Duke and UNC and that’s another level. This one feels more friendly,” Nova head coach Stephen Frazier-Wong said.
“The players wish each other good luck and stuff like that. But we’re so near and we see each other often and we’re such strong programs. They’re our biggest competition.”
Separated by less than 20 miles, Fort Lauderdale’s Nova and Miami Shores’ Barry are the other's toughest competition across many sports. This year, the Bucs took the DII men’s golf title ahead of the defending champion Sharks. For the first time in four years, their men’s basketball faceoff wasn’t decided by a last-second shot.
Thankfully, the state of Florida has plenty of rowing talent so that the programs aren’t fighting each other for recruits.
“Florida has the greatest number of high-school programs in the country and I think our schools are different enough,” Frazier-Wong said. “Barry has got some great international experience on their team and we haven’t been looking at that just yet. Other than myself, we don’t have anyone born outside of the U.S. The athletes that Barry has really have great rowing experience internationally and I think that’s pushed us and the level of Division II.”
Since the first DII Rowing Championships in 2002, only UC Davis, Mercyhurst, Western Washington and Humboldt State have taken home the title. But perhaps Nova and Barry’s intense competition has primed one or the other to become not only the first Florida school, but the first southern school to win a DII rowing championship.
“If a team for Florida wins, we’ll be happy for the South Region,” Frazier-Wong said. “Yes, we’ve got a rivalry, but we’d be happy to take down the West Region, because they’ve been so strong.”
Based on Friday’s heats, that’s a strong possibility.
Barry won its eights heat by 11 seconds, coming in at 7 minutes, 25.935 seconds. Nova also qualified for the finals in its eights heat in 7:27.768, ahead of Western Washington.
Despite falling short of Barry three times this season, the Sharks completed a first-day sweep by edging the Bucs in the fours heat. The teams were milliseconds apart at the 1,000-meter mark, but Nova opened the lead to eight seconds by the time the teams crossed the finish line.
“We definitely knew Barry would be our biggest competition,” Nova's Taylor Van Horn said. “It’s to our advantage that we’re so close because we see them all year, we race them multiple times and [get] a feel for racing them.”
Nova’s other big obstacle on Friday was the wind and pouring rain in what the team nicknamed “Windianapolis.” Thankfully, Frazier-Wong prepared his girls “for the apocalypse.”
“We’ve been racing in a lot of rough conditions back home -- we’ve had some bad weather come through -- so I felt very prepared and I think the rest of the crew really did as well.” Van Horn said. “No matter what the weather or the water throws at us, we’re confident. We came out on top, so it looks like our preparation paid off.”
On Saturday morning, Barry will race Mercyhurst in the fours repechage. If the Bucs come out on top, the Sunshine State rivals will face each other in each of Sunday’s finals, which will decide the next national champion.
“Our rivalry is [about] pushing each other,” Van Horn said. “It’s a hometown rivalry -- it’s always been us and Barry. They’re very fast this year and right now I think it’s [between] us and Barry and that’s to our advantage because they’ve pushed us and made us faster.”