March 25, 2010
SEATTLE - For the new rowers at Washington, the Class Day race is their introduction to the madness.
They begin to switch their thinking from training to racing, and this weekend they become fully indoctrinated into the program as Huskies.
The season begins at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning on the Montlake Cut with the 109th annual Class Day Regatta, an intra-squad race that's been a part of the program's fabric since its inception. The Regatta features four 2,000-meter races, starting with a varsity/freshman challenge and ending with the Seattle Times women's eight race and the George M. Varnell men's eight race.
Following the races will be an awards presentation and the announcement of the 2010 team captains. On Friday night, the Varsity Boat Club will convene with its annual banquet, which marks the 100th year the VBC has served as the fraternal and social figure for Washington rowing.
Within the men's program, the "Grunties" (as the freshman are known in Conibear Shellhouse lexicon) are the two-time defending champions and many expect them to be one of the favorites on the Montlake Cut this year. When asked about their recent success, men's coach Michael Callahan believed his program has struck a consistent chord with recruiting, finding the right type of student-athletes who fit the Washington profile, while also remaining loyal to the team's walk-on philosophy.
"One of our primary goals is that people develop over their four years (at UW)," Callahan said. "We don't want kids to peak during their freshman year."
Callahan directed credit towards men's freshman coach Luke McGee for not only developing exceptional freshman rowers, but ensuring they will turn into contributing varsity rowers as well. Last year's freshman boat was one of the best in program history, and now several of those rowers are expected to compete for spots in the varsity eight - the top oarsmen in the sophomore, junior and senior classes.
Yet, the most important aspect for the new rowers is that they're "learning how to race."
"They learn how to warm up, how to deal with the stresses and anxieties that go on during a race," McGee said. "And it's a fun tradition with the guys. They see everything that goes on at the Banquet and they really start to feel like they're a part of it."
Even though this is an intra-squad race, the competition on the water and within the boathouse is at a high level. Women's coach and rowing director Bob Ernst has listened over the years to plenty of trash talking while his teams warm up in stretching circles, and knows how much this race means to the different classes.
"We emphasize class a lot here," Ernst said. "It's important for the rowers to think about their teammates, the kids they've gone through the program with, particularly by the time they're seniors."
Last year, the juniors won the Seattle Times women's eight, edging the seniors by nearly seven seconds down the Montlake Cut.
Competition to row in the hallmark races is ferocious. During the week, each crew seat races to find the best combinations and select who will be in the top eight.
But the week also marks a new season for the program.
The monotony of training is over. The finish line is ahead and winter exams are finished. Everyone can direct their focus towards racing.
"Class Day, historically, raises the intensity of the group and gets everyone from the training mindset to race-ready," Callahan said. "We've been training for six months, and there's a clear difference between training and racing."
Class Day Schedule (all races 2,000 meters)
10:00am: Women's Varsity / Novice Challenge
10:10am: Men's Varsity / Freshman Challenge
10:20am: The Seattle Times Women's Eight
10:30am: George M. Varnell Men's Eight