Sporting Life

Spring sports highlights: 2017

A national championship for crew; an NCAA appearance for baseball.

Evan Frondorf ’14 is the coauthor of Drug Wars, recently released by Cambridge University Press.

Courtesy Yale Athletics

Courtesy Yale Athletics

Yale’s heavyweight crew celebrates its first-ever IRA national championship. View full image


The baseball team’s appearance at its first NCAA Tournament since 1993, in Corvallis, Oregon, on June 2, got off to a strong start. Leading off against Nebraska, Tim DeGraw ’19 calmly stepped up to the plate and singled up the middle. Then came Tim Whiteman ’19—another single. A hit from Richard Slenker ’17 loaded the bases. Two batters later, Griffin Dey ’19 singled to bring in two runs. In just minutes, the Ivy League champs were already up 2–0 on the nationally ranked Cornhuskers.

After that, pitching carried the Elis to victory. Scott Politz ’19, a first-team All-Ivy selection, pitched a sparkling complete game, allowing just one earned run over nine innings. The 5–1 result was Yale baseball’s first NCAA Tournament win in 25 years. “For this kid [Politz] to do what he did—it’s pretty amazing,” said John Stuper, Yale’s longtime head coach. “If he’s not an All-American, I don’t know what an All-American looks like.”

The upset win put Yale ahead in a double-elimination bracket. The next opponent was the home team, Oregon State—which came into the game as the nation’s unanimous number-one pick. The Bulldogs were clobbered 11–0 by the Beavers. “This isn’t a game that, as a coach, you lose sleep over,” said Stuper after the game. “They’re not 51–4 by accident.” 

After a 9–5 win the following afternoon against frequent regular-season opponent Holy Cross, the Bulldogs faced an evening rematch against the Beavers. They were eliminated in an offensive explosion, 8–1. But Yale would leave Oregon with its first multi-win NCAA Tournament appearance since George H. W. Bush ’48 was captain in 1948. They also got the most wins in the program’s history, with 34.


On the same weekend in June, but about 500 miles south of Corvallis, the men’s heavyweight crew raced for a national championship in Rancho Cordova, California. It was an all-out sprint versus Washington in the grand final.

Yale took the lead by the 500-meter mark of the 2,000-meter race, but faced a hard-charging Huskies boat in the final stretch. The resulting finish was too close to call, but after review, a championship celebration followed: the Bulldogs had won by just over six-hundredths of a second—perhaps an inch or two of boat length. “One of my first feelings was incredible relief,” says Stephan Riemekasten ’17, who sat in the stroke seat. “I knew deep in my heart that we had the speed to win it.”

It was Yale’s first-ever win in the IRA Regatta, but the 12th for coach Steve Gladstone, who won before as coach at Brown and Cal–Berkeley. The IRA has long been considered the de facto national championship, but Yale and Harvard did not begin participating in the regatta until 2003, choosing instead to focus on their year-end four-mile race in New London at the Yale-Harvard Regatta. (The Bulldogs also won that race this year, besting Harvard by just under three seconds.) 

The win at nationals came after the heavyweights’ top boat won Eastern Sprints for the third straight year. More satisfying was the team’s overall victory at the event, their first since 1979, supported by second-place finishes from Yale’s other three boats in their events. “The win is more than just the nine guys in the [varsity] boat,” says first-varsity oarsman Ollie Wynne-Griffith ’17. “The win is the 35 guys in the gym in September and October and November.”

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