All in the Same Boat
by Susan Reid
The Washington womens rowing program has taken to doing things in pairs these days, namely winning back-to-back NCAA Championships in 1997 and 98. If you looked closely last spring, you would notice a pair of sisters, twins Katy and Rachel Dunnet, in the varsity boat.
For the sisters from West Vancouver, B.C., last season was the first time in their three years at Washington they had rowed together. Katy, a three-year varsity letterwinner and the older sister by five minutes, rows in the five seat for the Huskies. After two years with the junior varsity, Rachel moved into the three seat in early May.
"I think its a little different for us," explains Katy in comparing her teammates and her twin. "With your teammates, you are always pulling for them to do well. With your sister, you watch her and think I know she can do this. I want Rachel to make the varsity boat and she wants me to get healthy. It was exciting to be in the same boat at the end of the season."
Looking back at the NCAA Championships last May in Gainesville, Ga., the battle for the team title came down to the final race with Washington, Brown and Virginia deadlocked at 43 points each. The only three schools from the team competition to qualify varsity, junior varsity and fours in the finals, the top finisher among the three in the varsity race would take home the championship trophy.
The Huskies exploded off the start and never looked back, winning the race and a second straight NCAA Championship by a boat length.
"It was pretty amazing," reflects Rachel. "The boat struggled through a lot the entire season. You could tell when we got to Gainesville and went out to practice, the speed of the boat just kept getting better and better.
"If you talk to anyone on that boat," she continues, "that last race ... personally, its one of the hardest Ive ever rowed. I remember at the finish, I wanted to start screaming, but I was bent over exhausted and had to wait a minute or two. I was completely dead."
Katy echoed the sentiment.
"When we won in 97, it was a little anti-climactic," she says. "We all knew how strong the boat was and knew there was nothing anyone could throw at us. We were even a little disappointed because we felt we could have rowed even better, gone faster. We were perfectionists.
"Last year, we struggled so much, coming together as a boat," she continues. "Going into that last race, we had been in every situation; we had been up, we had been down, we had to row back through, we had people charging at us in the last 500 meters. No one is expecting us to win right now. They were all looking at Brown and we had nothing to lose. It was the last race together for a lot of us. It was one of the best races Ive ever had in my three years here."
"They told me it was as perfect a race as they have ever rowed," adds Husky head coach Jan Harville.
Now in their senior year, the Dunnets will play a key role this season as the Huskies aim for a three-peat in their NCAA Championship run. They rowed in a straight four for the Canadian National Team this summer and finished sixth at the Nations Cup under-23 national championships in Greece.
For Harville, in her 12th season as head womens coach, it means more rowers with international experience enhancing her perennially strong program.
"Katy and Rachel are both in a position to be leaders this year," Harville says. "Rowing with the Canadian National Team is a credit to their ability, to get to that level and be competitive. Any time you have athletes competing at that level over the summer, it only adds to the strength of our team. They come back here more fit and more motivated. They bring with them what they learned in a different environment."
Washington hopes to be in a familiar environment this year as the NCAA Championships return to the west coast, on Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif., site of the Huskies 1997 national title. And as they aim for a third straight championship, Katy and Rachel Dunnet hope to be sitting in the same boat again.