Nov. 7, 2008
SEATTLE - Washington rowing is set to compete in its last races of the fall season this Sunday, Nov. 9, as both the men and women take to the water in the 27th Head of the Lake Regatta, co-hosted by Lake Washington Rowing Club.
The Head of the Lake was first raced in 1981 and has been contested each year since, with the exception of 2006, though not always along the "classic" three-mile course fans will witness this year. For most of the regatta's history, the course has consisted of a start in Lake Union near "boathouse row," then a course that ran through Montlake Cut and into Lake Washington, ending near Conibear Shellhouse. About four years ago, the regatta's organizers changed the course to start near the UW's waterfront activity center and row past Gasworks Park, but the move was met with resistance due to safety concerns arising from the wind and water conditions in Lake Union in late fall. In fact, due to windy conditions, the regatta was cancelled in 2006 and shortened in 2007. This year, the regatta organizers have reverted back to the classic course laid out in 1981.
"This is a renaissance for the Head of the Lake," said women's head coach Bob Ernst. "It's going to be a much smaller event this year, but I'm glad they've gone back to the original course."
This year's edition of the regatta will feature 33 races with entries from three countries, nine states and 55 rowing clubs and will begin at 8am Sunday morning. Competitors include Washington State, Gonzaga, the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, Portland State, University of Puget Sound and Seattle U.
The Washington women will race five eights and three fours. Ernst has selected his varsity eight boat based on a three-mile head race held in practice this week. Ernst split his crew into pairs and had the pairs race for spots in the top boat, selecting the four fastest pairs for his varsity eight.
"All I do is tell them which seat to sit in," said Ernst. "It's a great motivator for the athletes, because they ultimately control who sits in the varsity boat, but it's kind of risky. We only get three days to practice with this lineup and the lineup can change from one race to the next."
Ernst will enter his newly-minted varsity eight, a second varsity eight, made up of pairs five through eight from the practice race, a third eight and three fours and novice coach Nicole Minett will enter two novice eights.
"This race is extremely important for our program," remarked Ernst. "Except for the nine women who went to the Head of the Charles, this is the only chance our crews will get to race this fall. We have infinite respect for Washington State, who kicked our butts last time we raced them. And two of the best crews in Canada are coming in the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria. They're just coming off their national championship last weekend and those crews are loaded. They've got national team kids and Olympians in their boats right now. They've probably got the best teams they've had in four years. There will be no lack of competition."
"We're going to be pretty good," Ernst added. "But we could be beaten and we know that."
Men's head coach Michael Callahan has also opted to try something different with his crews. Callahan will split his two top varsity eights into four fours to try to increase intra-team competition. He will also enter his third and fourth eights as the varsity and second varsity boats.
"Basically, I wanted to get some of our third and fourth boat guys into some pressure situations," said Callahan. "They have the chance to win their races, but they're going to have to dig down deep to get it. They'll be racing some good teams in University of Victoria and University of British Columbia. It's a big risk, but the reward could be very high for those guys."
Callahan's crews will kick off the regatta, racing in the open/collegiate eight in the first race of the day. The women's open/collegiate eight races next, followed by the men's and women's second varsity eight race. The third eight rows after the 2V, followed by the fours.
For the complete race schedule, visit the official Head of the Lake Regatta homepage GoHuskies.com following the conclusion of the regatta.