It did mean something. The Crimson scorched every dual opponent and went on to open-water victories at Sprints and IRAs.
When Howard and Holzapfel returned for their junior season—accompanied by five others from the 2003 boat—they immediately felt the burden of doing it all again. Sophomore year, they were naïve, they were young, and they won convincingly. Anything less in 2004 would be a devastating failure.
“I don’t remember coming off the water after a race and being genuinely happy,” Holzapfel says of his junior season. “Unless we horizoned someone, it wasn’t good enough.”
But the 2004 Harvard crew delivered despite immense internal and external pressure.
They even exceeded expectations, winning both Sprints and IRAs, defeating the French and British national teams, and then falling by only six seats to a Dutch national crew that went on to win a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics.
“We might have been the best university crew in the world,” Howard said earlier this year.
His use of the past tense is critical. With the graduation of seven of nine members of that boat—Howard and Holzapfel were all that remained—nobody expected Harvard to repeat in 2005.
The varsity eight entered the season at No. 4. Howard and Holzapfel were used to No. 1, and they made sure the young boat grew accustomed to that number as well.
“We went from being the young guys in the boat without a clue to the seniors who share their knowledge with the younger guys,” Holzapfel says. “And I think we showed them that if you make up your mind to go fast, and you’re motivated to go as fast as you possibly can at all times, then you can succeed.”
When the No. 1 Harvard varsity capped off a 6-0 dual season with a Sprints win on May 15, it was only fitting that Howard and Holzapfel grasped the trophy together.
One hand each laid claim to the No. 1 ranking they have held for four years—to the unblemished record they share as three-year members of the Harvard varsity.
“I never thought all this would happen,” Howard says, reflecting on the undefeated run. “I came here just wanting to make the freshman boat.”
In four different boats, with different personnel and varying expectations, Holzapfel and Howard have stood victorious on the Lake Quinsigamond winner’s dock—never as the same person, but always together, as two indispensable parts in one of the best runs in collegiate rowing history.
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.