June 1, 2008
RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. - Exactly two weeks ago, as the Washington women's rowing team departed Lake Natoma, they wondered if they would be back. Sunday, they stayed after the races and celebrated on the awards platform.
Washington collected the second place team trophy and the varsity four won a national title during the final day of the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships. The second-place team performance was UW's best since a similar runner-up effort to Brown at the 2002 NCAA Regatta.
The Huskies earned the bronze medal in the second varsity eight competition and finished fifth in the varsity eight grand final.
Witnessing a Huskies' celebration seemed like an unlikely scenario on May 18 when UW was a fourth-place team finisher in the Pac-10 Championships at the same Lake Natoma venue. That sub par effort left their NCAA Championships fate to the selection committee.
"I was pretty sure we weren't going," said junior Samantha Smith, the No. 3 seat in the second varsity eight. "I never would have thought after Pac-10s that this was going to happen, so it makes it twice as good."
The Huskies did get invited back to Lake Natoma. Their showing during the three-day regatta validated their selection, according to head coach Bob Ernst.
"We almost didn't get invited, I suppose. Clearly we belong here."
Sunday, UW out-pointed its Pac-10 rivals, including conference winner California, which was one of the pre-regatta favorites.
Entering the final race, the Huskies had an opportunity to place first in the team standings. They needed to finish one spot ahead of Brown in the varsity eight grand final. The Bears finished third, two places ahead of UW, to clinch their second straight team title.
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.
Brown won its NCAA-leading sixth team championship while Washington finished among the top-two for the sixth time. They are the only two schools to record top-10 finishes at every championship since the NCAA began sponsoring women's rowing in 1997. The Huskies were team champions in 1997, 1998 and 2001.
Washington amassed 59 points in the team competition, second only to Brown's total of 67. California posted a third-place total of 53 points, followed by Yale in fourth (51) and Virginia in fifth (47). Washington State finished eighth with 30 points.
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.
He returned to the helm of the women's program in July of 2007 after 20 years as the men's head coach. Ernst directed the UW men to the varsity eight national title last spring before turning that team over to Michael Callahan.
"It's a feeling of satisfaction," Ernst declared after his first NCAA Regatta. "I took over the women's crew and let Michael have the guys because I wanted to get this job done. So, we're on our way."
The Pac-10 champion Huskies streaked off the starting line and immediately gained a boat-length lead. They maintained that advantage through the opening 1,000 meters before Virginia made its move. The Cavaliers pulled into the front just after the midway mark and opened a two-seat advantage for the next 600 meters.
"We had been undefeated so far and we didn't want to break that streak," explained the Huskies' varsity four stroke Rachel Powers. "We all knew that this was the big time. We really had to pull through and do something spectacular.
"We were ready to have to fight back against another crew. Even though it's nerve wracking to have that actually happen in the race, we were prepared enough that we could face that with the right attitude and come back. We had the best sprint that we've had all year. It just felt really good to cross that finish line first."
UW staged a furious sprint, overtaking Virginia with 100 meters to go en route to a two-seat triumph. The Husky four completed the 2,000-meter course in 7-minutes, 24.75 seconds in its final race. Virginia's second-place time was 7:26.09, followed by Brown (7:29.77), California (7:33.10), Michigan State (7:33.99) and Yale (7:41.82).
"It came down to the last 500 and I said to the girls that it would come down to the sprint for the national title," coxswain Maggie Cheek described. "The boat just lifted up out of the water and we just went."
The Huskies have a legacy of success in the fours, placing among the top-five at the nationals every season since 2004. Sunday's win marked UW's fourth NCAA fours championship.
The Washington second varsity boat's third-place NCAA finish was higher than its fourth-place Pac-10 result.
"We learned a lot from what we did wrong at Pac-10 and we were never going to let that happen to us again," said Lia Prins, who occupies the bow in the UW second boat. The Huskies won Saturday's repechage to advance to the grand finals. "We just came back with a vengeance and it helped us a lot, what we learned."
Brown won the second varsity race, leading from start to finish. Ohio State rowed in second the entire time while the Huskies moved from an early fourth-place position into the third medal spot.
Brown crossed the finish line in 6:42.42, Ohio State was second in 6:44.87 and UW had a third-place time of 6:48.41. Virginia was fourth (6:49.88), followed by Tennessee (6:51.60) and California (6:52.15).
Washington was the only crew in the varsity eight grand final race from outside the top-six in the coaches poll. The No. 14 Huskies defeated six higher ranked crews to advance into the six-boat championship field.
Yale became the first crew to win back-to-back varsity eight championships since Washington in 2001 and 2002. The third-ranked Bulldogs won the featured event on the strength of a surge over the final 250 meters that propelled them ahead of No. 5 Stanford, which let the entire race until the finish.
The winning time was 6:34.05 for Yale, two seats better than Stanford's time of 6:34.95. Third-ranked Brown was third in 6:35.25 and No. 1 California was fourth in 6:36.21. The Huskies' varsity eight clocked a fifth-place time of 6:38.25 and No. 6 Michigan State was sixth in 6:40.26.
While content with second place for now, Ernst yearns to be the final team standing on the awards platform.
"If you'd have asked me in September if we were going to do this well, I would say, `Well I'd be surprised.' But, now we know what it takes and hopefully they'll rise to the occasion and we'll win this thing pretty soon."
Only seven of the 23 athletes that competed for UW at the championships were seniors.
Sophomore Alison Browning pulls the No. 3 oar in the varsity eight. She points to the proud heritage of Husky rowing as an inspiration for the current crews.
"We really want to see Washington rowing do well again like we did back when it first started as an NCAA sport. We definitely want to continue that tradition and to keep up with the men's team. For me it's really important that we get respect for all levels of our team and I think we definitely earned it this week."
The Washington men's team begins its national championship quest Thursday on the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, N.J. The three-day Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships are scheduled for June 5-7.
The defending champion UW men's varsity eight is seeking to achieve the school's first consecutive national titles since 1940 and 1941. The Huskies are undefeated and ranked No. 1.
2008 NCAA Women's Rowing Championships
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Lake Natoma; Rancho Cordova, Calif.
(all races were 2,000 meters)
FINAL TEAM STANDINGS
1, Brown, 67
2, Washington, 59
3, California, 53
4, Yale, 51
5, Virginia, 47
6, Michigan State, 38
7, Ohio State, 34
8, Washington State, 30
9, Harvard, 26
10, Wisconsin, 25
11, Tennessee, 21
12, Princeton, 17
GRAND FINAL RESULTS
1, Yale, 6:34.05
2, Stanford, 6:34.95
3, Brown, 6:35.25
4, California, 6:36.21
5, Washington, 6:38.25
6, Michigan State, 6:40.26
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.
Second Varsity Eight
1, Brown, 6:42.42
2, Ohio State, 6:44.87
3, Washington, 6:48.41
4, Virginia, 6:49.88
5, Tennessee, 6:51.60
6, California, 6:52.15
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.
1, Washington, 7:24.75
2, Virginia, 7:26.09
3, Brown, 7:29.77
4, California, 7:33.10
5, Michigan State, 7:33.99
6, Yale, 7:41.82
UW lineup: cox-Maggie Cheek, stroke-Rachel Powers, 3-Jennifer Park, 2-Charlene Franklin, bow-Adrienne Martelli.