by Richard Gonzales
They say the road to a championship is a tough one. They say the road to repeating is even harder. That will be the challenge for the Husky rowing programs this season.
For the 1997 Washington men's crew, last season was one of redemption. For the women's team, it was one of triumph and writing new pages in the history books.
The men captured the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championship, their seventh national title overall and first since 1984. The women rowed themselves to the first-ever NCAA Rowing Championship title, which was also the first NCAA team championship for the University of Washington.
Let the dynasties begin. Like the Boston Celtics in the '60s and the Los Angeles Lakers in the '80s, Washington crew can boast its share of championships, with 15 between the two programs. In the 80's, the women took "Showtime" and turned it in to "Rowtime" as they rattled off five national titles from 1981-1985.
Women's head coach Jan Harville credits past coaches and rowers for Washington's rich rowing tradition and the top program recognition that it receives today.
"The women have been winning national championships since the sport started," Harville says. "It is very rewarding to win the first NCAA championship both in rowing and the team championship for Washington. That is more of a representation of the folks that have come in the past. It is still pretty much the same program we have had in place before that we have been successful with. I think we have had a strong program for quite a while so I hope to continue that."
To continue a strong program, rowers do more in one morning than the average person does all day. They wake up in the wee hours of the morning to practice and train while the rest of us are snuggled away in bed. There is no summer vacation - training is a year-round ordeal. Undefeated seasons and championships are the result. You'll hear no complaining.
The upcoming 1998 crew season should be no different. On the men's side, led by seven-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year Bob Ernst, two rowers and the coxswain return from last year's championship team. In 1996, the Washington men finished second to Princeton, a mere 1.3 seconds behind the Tigers. They decided that last year was the season to bring home the championship and they did just that.
"Most definitely we'll be looking for redemption this year," said varsity rower Carl Bolstad before last year's season.
Washington took care of business in Camden, N.J. as they rowed the 2,000-meter course in 5:51.0 while Brown University timed in at 5:54.1 for second place.
"I could not be happier right now," said Ernst seeing his varsity, JV and freshman boats all win. "This is what we wanted to do. We came in figuring the freshman and varsity had a pretty good chance to win. Everyone goes home with a smile."
Led by Harville, a five-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year and former Olympic coach, the UW women's team is looking to dominate the remaining years of the decade and continue success in the new millennium. The Huskies snapped their dry spell of eight seasons without a championships when they brought home last year's title, the first time the NCAA sponsored a championship in rowing.
The format of the championships is different than that of years passed. Rather than an individual boat vying for the fastest time, last year's NCAA Championships was a team competition that consisted of three boats. Each school received points based upon finishes in heats. Washington accumulated 201 points while Princeton finished in second-place with 184 points.
"It's a rewarding experience for all the time, dedication, effort and energy that we put in to our sport," says currrent assistant coach and former Husky coxswain Erin O'Connell. "We are doing everything we can to duplicate it this season."
With seven of eight varsity rowers returning, duplication is certainly a good possibility. The Husky women hope to put together another string of championships to etch Washington in the NCAA record books.
"We have seven of the eight rowers back," Harville says. "We have a strong senior class and a lot of experience coming back. That experience we will try to use that in a positive way to encourage the rookies along to get us back up to compete with everyone. Everyone knows the standard now, everyone knows how fast the other schools are and how fast we have to go. We know we have to be faster than last year."
With two distinguished coaches leading the way, the 1998 crew season should set another standard in Washington's storied championship history.