May 26, 2012
WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - Washington placed two boats in the Grand Finals of the NCAA Championships on Saturday, a significant achievement for the program as it seeks a return to national prominence.
Following the heats on Friday, women's coach and rowing director Bob Ernst stated for in order for the Huskies to take the next step as a team, they needed to place multiple boats in the finals. And the Huskies did just that, securing entries for the varsity eight and the varsity four at Saturday's semifinals on Lake Mercer's 2,000-meter course.
It is the first time since 2008 the varsity eight has reached the Grand Final of the NCAAs. The boat advanced out of a brutal semifinal grouping, which saw the Huskies paired with Michigan, Princeton, UCLA, Yale and Ohio State. Only the top three boats move on and the message Ernst delivered before the race reflected its importance: Sunday matters little if you don't race at your best today.
"The game now is to get on the podium," Ernst said. "We'll see what everyone brings (on Sunday). I'm looking forward to it."
At the start of the V8 race, few teams could match the Wolverines punishing pace. But the Huskies remained in contact with Michigan, as well as second-place Princeton. Those positions held firm until the 1,250 meter mark as the Huskies began to take seats from the Tigers, while managing to push away from UCLA. Ohio State, which won its heat on Friday, was faltering in fifth. With 250 meters to go, the Huskies thwarted a late move by the Bruins and crossed the line third overall, finishing with a time of 6:18.30.
Joining the Huskies in the Varsity Grand Final will be Michigan, Princeton, Virginia, Cal and USC. Making the GF with the flagship boat was considered a critical a goal coming into the race.
While the varsity's spot was relatively secure, the same couldn't be said for the varsity four. In a race similar to Friday's heats, the Huskies dropped down to fourth as a multitude of crews came out in aggressive fashion. California took a boat length's lead at the 1,000, trailed by Harvard and then Yale. Washington was three-quarters of a length down to the Bulldogs, which would have put them out of the GF. Feeling the pressure, the Huskies responded with a surge and began to take seats from Yale. Coming into the final 250, three boats were evenly aligned behind Cal. Then, with 20 strokes left, the Huskies nudged past Harvard for the last Grand Finals spot. UW's time of 7:11.25 was shade in front of the Crimson's 7:12.16.
"It's a character check. How deep are you willing to go, and how much (pain) can you tolerate?" Ernst said. "It's important to the program to see results like that."
The only UW boat not to reach the Grand Finals was the 2V8, which finished sixth in their heat. Facing the best of the Big Ten in Michigan and Ohio State, the Huskies fell back into fifth as the race began. By the midway point, the Huskies had made a move and vaulted into fourth place, one spot away from qualification. But the Huskies couldn't sustain the pace, and fell behind in the last 250. Nevertheless, the boat can help the program's overall finish with a strong finish in Sunday's Petite Final.
Only three crews (Cal, Princeton and Virginia) qualified all their boats into the finals, signifying the overall quality of competition at the NCAA Championships.
At the Grand Finals, the Huskies' varsity eight and varsity four boats will have the opportunity to race for medals. And while the Huskies are perhaps on the outside looking in as it pertains to the overall National Championship, they are poised for their best finish in years.
NCAA Championship Results
Varsity Eight Semifinals
1. Michigan 6:15.20, 2. Princeton 6:17.40, 3, Washington 6:18.30, 4. UCLA 6:20.80, 5. Ohio State 6:22.30, 6. 6:26.30
Second Varsity Eight Semifinals
1. Michigan 6:29.71, 2. Ohio State 6:33.28, 3. UCLA 6:35.06, 4. Yale 6:36.16, 5. Stanford 6:37.99, 6. Washington 6:41.46
Varsity Four Semifinals
1. California 7:09.66, 2. Yale 7:10.81, 3. Washington 7:11.25, 4. Harvard 7:12.16, 5. Notre Dame 7:21.20, 6. Michigan 7:31.25