May 27, 2005
RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. - Athletes throughout the nation train vigorously to earn the right to compete at the NCAA Championships. Five members of the Washington women's rowing team are ecstatic that they won't be competing at the championship regatta ... for one day.
"It's really great. We don't have to sit through the heat again tomorrow. We don't have to race our brains out again. It's really nice to get a day off just to relax," senior coxswain Katie Peyer said Friday.
Washington's varsity four crew has a day off alright, but they earned it. The Huskies streaked past the field in their six-boat race Friday to finish first in their heat during the first day of the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships. The winner of each of the two heats advanced directly to Sunday's grand final race. They have the luxury of avoiding Saturday's repechage races that will determine the other four crews for the six-boat final.
"It takes a little bit more pressure off because we know we are in the final and we can just gear up for that one race as opposed to having to think about multiple races," said senior Katherine Ramos (McLean, Va.) who rows in the No. 3 seat. "We can narrow our focus down a little bit more. Plus, a day of rest is always appreciated."
Ramos speaks from experience. She is the only returning member of last year's varsity four crew that finished second in its heat and needed to navigate through the repechage to earn a grand finals position.
The Huskies raced to a second-place performance last season. When asked to compare, Ramos says there is a physical difference between last year's silver-medal crew and this year's quartet.
"I'm the tallest one, whereas last year we were all about the same height. Power-wise my first instinct would say last year's crew was faster, but I don't think they are. All of these girls want it really badly and I never felt any less power in this boat despite the size difference."
Friday's heat victory came during the first race for the varsity four in its current configuration.
Since they last raced at the Pac-10 Championship on May 15, Ramos moved from the bow to the No. 3 seat and senior Katie Gardiner (Chico, Calif.) joined the crew as the new bow rower. The stroke is still senior Katie Anderson from Prairie High School in Vancouver, Wash. The No. 2 seat remains Erin Lee, a product of Inglemoor High School in Kenmore, Wash., who is the only junior in the boat.
Husky assistant Sean Mulligan coaches the varsity four. He is pleased with the new makeup of the crew.
"You never really know exactly how much speed you have. I knew in practice they were going well, but you don't know how it compares to the other lineup. Frankly, at this point it doesn't matter. That's the boat and they have to go race. There's four seniors in the boat and one junior so they have really good chemistry together. They are just really attentive and are meticulous about how they row. They are just going for each other and for Washington.
Ramos believes that the first-place effort in the heat race injected the new crew with some certainty that they are capable of challenging for the title.
"Obviously we're excited and really happy," Ramos exclaimed about the heat victory. "Our boat lineup changed a bit and this is our first race with this lineup. It was just a good test really to have that confidence that we can race well in that boat and that we can build on it even more for the race on Sunday."
Washington's four completed the 2,000-meter course in 7-minutes, 25.22-seconds. The Huskies walked past early leaders Wisconsin and USC, taking over at the 500-meter at which point just one second separated the top-four crews. UW and Wisconsin pulled away from the pack and were nearly even at 1,000 meters before the Huskies surged ahead by six seats in the third 500.
In the final quarter of the race, California sprinted from fourth to second in the outside lane to finish two seats back of the Huskies. The Golden Bears had a second-place time of 7:26.98, Wisconsin was third in 7:27.58 and USC faded to fourth in 7:32.49.
The impressive first-place showing was an unexpected result for the Huskies. They had lost the Pac-10 title by open water to USC two weeks earlier at the same venue.
"We were really excited to get to race USC again. We knew that we had gotten a lot faster," said Peyer. "We were having some really good days of practice last week. We knew that we could take them down."
Mulligan agreed that a re-match with USC was something the Huskies were looking forward to.
"It's weird when you come to the NCAA Championships and its like the Pac-10 final again with USC and Cal. But I was really excited because I wanted to race with USC next to them. It's such a different thing when you can feel the crew right next to you versus Pac-10s then they were out in lane six. USC is really good and we were a little bit faster today. We'll see what happens Sunday, it's going to be a whole different race."
Sunday, the Huskies hope to add to their proud history in varsity four competition. Washington won four national championships in the varsity four event, including three consecutive titles from 1999-2001.
Waiting for Washington Sunday is defending national champion Virginia which won the other heat Friday. Both crews hope to take advantage of the day off on Saturday.
"In a regatta like this, especially when it's really hot out and everything, it's really nice because you just don't want to take any chances in the reps," Mulligan explained. "It's easier to just go through, take a day off, just relax, focus on what you have to do for the final and then just go and execute again in the final."
If they execute in the final, this year's varsity four crew will credit its success to a long season of strenuous workouts, early-morning training and intense race preparation. And one significant day off.