May 1, 2008
SEATTLE (AP) -Each time Will Crothers walks into the dining room of Conibear Shellhouse, his eyes are drawn to the ceiling.
From the support beams of the cafeteria hangs the wooden rowing shell from the 1936 Washington men's eight team that won a gold medal for the United States at the Berlin Olympics.
Talk about having expectations hanging over you.
"I look up every day and see that shell up there, it's just motivating," Crothers said.
So far, Crothers and the rest of the Huskies are doing a pretty good job of living up to the school's rich history.
The Washington men enter Saturday's Windermere Cup on a 14-race winning streak and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Huskies have not lost since the 2006 Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships.
The streak likely won't get the stiffest test this weekend, with Navy, ranked 12th in the country, and the under-23 Polish National Team the other competitors in the 22nd annual event.
On the women's side, Washington will face Navy and a team from Melbourne University in Australia. Both the Polish team and the Melbourne team will be missing rowers who are preparing for the Beijing Olympics.
"(We) understand the gravity of the race," Melbourne coach Ian Wright said. "This is the biggest audience they will ever have in any type of rowing competition, Olympics included."
But the two foreign teams won't be the only ones missing rowers as the Olympics draw near. So will the Washington men, another sign of the Huskies' powerful program.
Rob Gibson and Max Lang are away from school this year, training to compete for spots on the Canadian National Team. Program director and head women's coach Bob Ernst said there are 14 Washington rowers - men and women - that are candidates for their country's national teams.
"That's more than any other university by a long shot," he said.
Even without two of its top men's rowers, the Huskies - who went undefeated last year and won the IRA title - continue to thrive. This year, Washington has won all four of its races, including last weekend's dual victory over rival California.
While some believe this might be the best crew in Washington's history, the group next year might be even better.
"It's an incredible group of guys," Ernst said. "I've been here 35 years and I don't think we've had a better population of guys. If people think this program is good this year, wait until next year."
That's when Gibson and Lang will return. Washington has only two seniors in its eight-man lineup this year, meaning next year's group will not only be talented, but experienced.
"In rowing, I know of longer winning records and I think if it were a year from now, it might be a bigger story," men's coach Michael Callahan said.
"We've been fortunate so far and part of the success is bringing the right people to the right place and giving them the opportunity to be good."