Culver Military Academy National Champions
Culver Academies Rowing Team Grabs Two SRAA National Championships
Photographer / Mark Brettin
Most high school athletic coaches would likely be happy with even a single regional or state title in the course of their career. In just his second year as Culver Academies Rowing head coach, Nathan Walker took his program to the national stage, securing not one, but two Scholastic Rowing Association of America (SRAA) national championships.
After strong performances at the Midwest Scholastic Championships on May 11 and 12, the men’s junior 4+ team and men’s varsity 4+ team both qualified for nationals in Nashport, Ohio, on Dillon Lake later that month.
As head of Culver’s rowing program and coach of the varsity men’s team, Walker says the men’s squad was showing plenty of promise back in the fall racing season, as well as through winter training sessions in preparation for spring.
“We have fall and spring racing seasons, and back in the fall when the novice rowers come up to varsity with us, I knew we had some good potential and good drive in many of our athletes to do well,” says Walker, who began rowing while attending Purdue University and has since coached at the high school, college and adult levels.
“That potential really started to become clear in the winter – rowing in the midwest and northeast where it’s cold for so long, you have to grind it out with a long-term vision of what you want to achieve,” he adds. “You have to just put your head down and work, work, work. I saw the guys consistently doing that and getting faster, fitter and better.”
Fourteen Culver boats competed at the Midwest Scholastic Championships, with three eventually earning medals. The two teams that qualified for the SRAA championships included Brendan Jarmusz, Corbin Steck, Jason Dilena, Diego Gordon and Benjamin Brummel for the men’s junior 4+ team, as well as Noah Tan, Savas Koutsouras, Henry Stewart, Jacob Page and Charles Jones for the men’s varsity 4+ team.
“We had a pretty young group — three of the 10 guys who went had been there the previous year in the junior 4+ but everybody else had been on the novice team,” Walker explains. “Their rowing machine times had been good, but they didn’t really know what to expect and it’s so different when you’re actually lining up against people from Florida, California and Boston.”
After a few early snags during the trip to Ohio for nationals, including a flat tire en route and inclement weather that forced cancellation of all practices on the day before competition, both teams won their initial heats comfortably and pulled off semifinal victories in improved weather.
The varsity men clinched their finals victory by 2.7 seconds over Pine Crest School from Florida, while the junior squad beat out Pennsylvania-based Haverford School by 2.3 seconds for first place honors.
“I knew the guys could do it, but with a group of mostly younger guys who don’t have as much time in the water as many of the other teams from the coasts, and when the chips are on the table and the nerves are flaring, you have to galvanize together as a crew and have confidence,” Walker says. “My heart just swelled up seeing them come together and pull it off.”
Jones, a senior, says it was the team’s focus on collective rather than individual achievements that propelled them to a successful season.
“Coach says practice is like putting pennies in the bank and then you cash them out during the race,” he says. “We worked hard all the way through last season and even went to a training camp in Florida for a week. It paid off, and it showed us how the sport is based on hard work.”
Walker says his favorite moment of the season came moments after the varsity men finished their victorious race at nationals and made their way to the shore.
“Their junior teammates had just won earlier, and they came out and tackled them and they all splashed around,” he says. “It was smiles from everybody, and it was this perfect moment you have so rarely in life where everything comes together.”
A few of the winning team members are taking their rowing careers beyond Culver. Stewart will row for Stanford University this fall, and Koutsouras joined the U-19 U.S. national rowing team this summer. Stewart, Koutsouras and Jones now hold the first, third and fifth fastest 2,000-meter rowing times in Culver history.