May 31, 2008
RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. - Coach Bob Ernst states the same goal for his crews every year -- to be racing their fastest by the end of the season.
This year's Washington women's team may epitomize that objective more than any in his 34 years at the school.
The entire Husky fleet remained in national championship contention as a trio of crews earned berths to the national grand finals for the first time in seven seasons.
The Huskies' second varsity eight crew convincingly won its repechage Saturday and the varsity eight was a semifinal runner-up during the second day of the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships on Lake Natoma. Both boats secured spots in their respective grand final races.
UW's varsity four automatically advanced to its grand final field by virtue of a heat victory on Friday.
"I'm just really proud of these kids because they stuck with me all year and they haven't given up on each other," Ernst exclaimed. "These kids just keep getting faster every time they race and that's what it means to be a Husky rower."
The three-day NCAA regatta concludes Sunday with the championship races. Washington is one of only three schools with a boat in every grand final, joining defending national team titlist Brown and California. The last time the Huskies qualified all three crews for the NCAA grand finals was 2001, the year they captured their most recent of three team championships.
"It was a very good day. Our crews did what they were capable of doing," Ernst said. "The kids rowed well and all three boats are in the final. Now anything can happen. This is a team championship and we've got all of our boats in the final."
The team champion is determined by combining results from the three competitions, assigning points to each finishing place. The point-system is weighted to favor the results from the varsity eight event followed by the second varsity eight and then the varsity four.
The Huskies have already guaranteed that they will keep alive their streak of top-10 team finishes at every NCAA Regatta. UW is one of just three schools to qualify for all 12 NCAA Championships.
Washington streaked out to an early lead and sustained it the entire length of the 2,000-meter course en route to a seven-seat win over Tennessee in a second varsity repechage. UW finished in 6-minutes, 49.28-seconds followed by the Volunteers in 6:51.84.
It was a successful second voyage for the crew that had been rowing together less than one week. In Friday's first outing, the crew overcame a sluggish start to pass several crews and place second in the heat.
"We did a really good job at moving through people yesterday and we knew we could carry that on through today," said second varsity stroke Erika Sweet. "Actually, after the first 500 I was pretty confident that we would win the race. We did it and it was fun."
UW and Tennessee advance to Sunday's grand final race along with Princeton and California, the top two finishers of the other repechage. Brown and Ohio State, which earned automatic berths with heat wins on Friday, round out the field.
Washington's biggest breakthrough came in the featured event, the varsity eight. The 14th-ranked Huskies secured a berth in the championship race with an impressive second-place finish Saturday, defeating four opponents listed higher in the coaches poll. Only the top three crews advanced to the grand final.
Washington broke ahead early and paced the field until the 500-meter mark when No. 2 Brown gained the lead. The Bears led by as many as four seats while No. 4 Virginia, No. 6 Michigan State and UW alternated in second place.
The Huskies were running fourth before a surge over the final 250 meters vaulted them to a runner-up result in the tightly bunched field. At the finish, it was Brown with a winning time of 6:34.93, followed three seats back by Washington in 6:36.37 and third-place Michigan State in 6:36.64. Virginia finished fourth (6:36.92), No. 11 USC was fifth (6:46.00) and No. 10 Michigan sixth (6:48.60).
"I'm really pumped. We were down coming into the last 500 and our boat just picked it up and went," described sophomore Kayleigh Mack, who rows the No. 2 oar. "It's just so awesome. I don't think any of us have ever really pulled that hard in our lives before, so that last 250 was just unbelievable. I literally felt like I was going to die at the end of the race. The adrenaline was just so intense."
The six-boat varsity eight final includes the top-three finishers from the other semifinal, Yale, California and Stanford. The Huskies are the only grand final crew from outside the top-six in the rankings.
UW will race in the varsity grand final for the first time since 2003. Sophomore coxswain Isabelle Woodward hopes it is the start of a trend.
"I'm a little bit newer to rowing than a lot of the girls, but for me it's always about Husky pride. I am so thrilled to be a part of getting us back into the grand finals and making that a tradition. I've got two more years after this and I plan to make that happen every year."
The varsity four grand final features Friday's heat winners, Washington and Virginia. They will be joined by Brown, California, Michigan State and Yale. Those four crews placed one-two in Saturday's repechage races.
The Huskies have a legacy of success in the fours. UW placed among the top-five at the NCAAs every season since 2004 and captured three consecutive varsity four national championships from 1999-2001. The Huskies won the last two Pac-10 championships in the varsity four event and finished fifth last year at the NCAAs.
Probably no one outside the Conibear Shellhouse expected to see the white blades of Washington row in each of the grand finals. It seemed an unlikely scenario after the varsity eight and second varsity finished fifth and fourth, respectively on May 18 at the Pac-10 Regatta on the same Lake Natoma venue. Now those two UW eights have clinched top-six national finishes.
"People don't expect this from us," Mack said of the varsity eight crew. "Last year, finishing 15th and going to the Pac-10s and not doing well there, no one is expecting us to do well. We're small girls, but we've got a lot of heart and a lot of strength."
Second varsity coxswain Alysha Koorji, concurred with her teammate.
"It's awesome to be a Husky. To be in this position today is just a dream come true. We're out to prove that we actually deserve a spot here and we're not just some wildcard crew."
The Huskies have a chance at the national championships to match or exceed their fourth-place team finish from the Pac-10 Conference Championships.
Coach Ernst is in his second stint as the UW women's coach. His first was a successful seven-season stretch from 1981-87 when the Huskies won six varsity eight titles at the National Collegiate Rowing Championships. The NCAA did not begin sponsoring women's rowing until 1997.
Ernst returned to the helm of the women's program in July of 2007 after 20 years as the men's head coach. He directed the UW men to the varsity eight national title last spring.
While he prefers to deflect the credit to his athletes, Ernst deserves recognition for his part in the emergence of the women's team at these championships. After learning of his team's invitation to the NCAA Regatta, Ernst immediately opened every seat for competition.
He treated the eight-day period between the May 20 selections and the May 29 start of the championships as a training camp of sorts. The athletes competed on ergometers and in boats, vying for their positions.
The shakeup impacted all three boats, including a new coxswain for each. Three rowers were promoted to the top boat from the second varsity. No rower was in the same varsity eight seat that she occupied at the Pac-10 Regatta.
After winning the second varsity repechage, Mack summarized the hectic week before nationals.
"We all adapted well," she said. "With how much time we've had in this lineup, four days, it's gone really well."
2008 NCAA Women's Rowing Championships
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Lake Natoma; Rancho Cordova, Calif.
(all races were 2,000 meters)
DAY 2 RESULTS
(top three finishers in each race to grand final, rest to petite final)
Semifinal I -- 1, Yale, 6:35.16. 2, California, 6:38.66. 3, Stanford, 6:39.93. 4, Harvard, 6:42.58. 5, Princeton, 6:48.51. 6, Washington State, 6:54.01.
Semifinal II -- 1, Brown, 6:34.93. 2, Washington, 6:36.37. 3, Michigan State, 6:36.64. 4, Virginia, 6:36.92. 5, USC, 6:46.00. 6, Michigan, 6:48.50.
UW lineup: cox-Isabelle Woodward, stroke-Kara Farquharson, 7-Heather Young, 6-Kelly Foster, 5-Ashley Jones, 4-Kim Kennedy, 3-Alison Browning, 2-Kayleigh Mack, bow-Erika Shaw.
(top two finishers in each race to grand final, rest to petite final)
Repechage I -- 1, Virginia, 6:47.83. 2, California, 6:48.87. 3, Washington State, 6:52.89. 4, Yale, 6:56.01. 5, Harvard, 6:57.72.
Repechage II -- 1, Washington, 6:49.28. 2, Tennessee, 6:51.84. 3, Wisconsin, 6:55.90. 4, Michigan State, 7:02.08. 5, Princeton, 7:09.32.
UW lineup: cox-Alysha Koorji, stroke-Erika Sweet, 7-Hanne Trafnik, 6-Rosanne DeBoef, 5-Erin Knox, 4-Helen Wall, 3-Samantha Smith, 2-Kim Armstrong, bow-Lia Prins.
(top two finishers in each race to grand final, rest to petite final)
Repechage I -- 1, Michigan State, 7:33.77. 2, Yale, 7:38.04. 3, Washington State, 7:41.72. 4, Princeton, 7:48.30. 5, Tennessee, 7:54.46.
Repechage II -- 1, California, 7:32.06. 2, Brown, 7:32.21. 3, Ohio State, 7:38.58. 4, Wisconsin, 7:52.25. 5, Harvard, 8:04.84.
UW lineup: cox-Maggie Cheek, stroke-Rachel Powers, 3-Jennifer Park, 2-Charlene Franklin, bow-Adrienne Martelli.
SUNDAY, JUNE 1 GRAND FINALS SCHEDULE
(teams listed by lane assignment)
10:15 a.m. PDT -- 1-Washington, 2-Virginia, 3-Michigan State, 4-California, 5-Brown, 6-Yale.
Second Varsity Eight
10:45 a.m. PDT -- 1-Ohio State, 2-Brown, 3-Washington, 4-Virginia, 5-Tennessee, 6-California.
11:30 a.m. PDT -- 1-Yale, 2-Brown, 3-California, 4-Washington, 5-Michigan State, 6-Stanford.