March 31, 2010
SEATTLE - Little is certain and speculation reigns as one of the most successful crew programs in the country enters the competitive portion of the 2010 season.
This is the reality with the University of Washington, where talent and youth have combined to create some interesting questions. And as the first hurdle rapidly approaches this weekend with the ultra-competitive Stanford Invitational, both coaching staffs are curious to see how their crews handle themselves against top-notch competition.
Within the men's crew team, Coach Michael Callahan has spent his mornings on Lake Washington searching for the fastest combination of rowers. Last year's National Championship winning varsity eight will have a mostly new look after the loss of five oarsmen from the boat to graduation. One particular loss - stroke Will Crothers - means the crew will have a new feel and rhythm compared to previous years.
Callahan has a pool of talented rowers to pick from. But the question remains how they'll fare against fast, tactical crews loaded with varsity races under their belts.
Over the weekend, Callahan will pit his unproven boats against what he feels is an elite group of crews down at Redwood Shores. Stanford has proven its one of the best programs in the country under the stewardship of 10-year coach Craig Amerkhanian.
The mystery, Callahan said, is his group.
"I know Stanford is very good and well-coached," Callahan said. "So we're going to have to perform at a high level and bring it."
To formulate his new eight, Callahan has mined through erg scores, practice logs and notes from the Class Day Regatta last weekend. For example, Callahan liked how his juniors remained calm in a tight race, sticking to the game plan and making the necessary moves when it counted. On the flip side, the coach talked about "teachable moments" with his sophomores, who were in control until the last 500 meters and allowed two crews to walk through them.
All are factored in when the top boat is drawn up. The decisions are never easy, and competition during practice has been fierce among his rowers to assert themselves into the discussion.
In the women's program, the situation with coach and rowing director Bob Ernst is less speculative. At the Class Day Regatta, Ernst witnessed the bulk of his varsity roster - the seniors - display the dedication it takes to be a contender on the national stage. His elder group was determined and focused - a required trait for crews with grand aspirations.
This year, however, that's more of a requirement than before as Ernst feels the Pac-10 Conference is stacked from top to bottom. In the Stanford Invitational alone, the Huskies kick off the intercollegiate sprint season with a test against the defending national champion Cardinal.
"They're all contenders, and where we fit in is going to be an interesting puzzle to solve," Ernst said. "We're trying one combination this weekend and we may switch it up in the middle of the regatta. Who knows? It's going to be an exciting season. This weekend is going to be super."