All five Washington boats won their heats Thursday, advancing to Friday's semifinals. The varsity eight crew won easily, with the best time of the day, and is hoping to remain unbeaten and repeat last year's national title.
CHERRY HILL, N.J. — A year ago, the Washington Huskies played a little game of possum by losing their first race of the season in the semifinals of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, only to crush the field the following day for their third national title in five years.
That’s not the plan this year, at least according to junior oarsman Alex Bunkers.
“We always want to win every single race,” Bunkers said Thursday after the Huskies raced to an open-water victory on windswept Cooper River, becoming the first of five UW boats to win their heats and advance to Friday’s semifinals. “But the whole purpose is to qualify for the final and this year we want to win the semifinal.”
The top-ranked and undefeated Huskies have won every race by open water this season and are looking for their 15th national championship. They have not won back-to-back titles since 1940-41.
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With that in mind, Bunkers said there was some nervous energy before the crew took the water on a relatively cool, breezy morning. Temperatures throughout the weekend are expected to stay in the low to mid-80s, a departure from the steamy conditions that usually greet the nation’s top rowers.
“Some of the guys were nervous and jittery and that might have given us some extra energy,” said Bunkers, who manned the seventh seat in last year’s varsity eight boat and rows from the same spot this year. “The conditions were not ideal — we had a crossing head wind — but as a whole we did pretty well and got the job done.”
Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Boston University, Wisconsin and California are expected to be the biggest obstacles in Washington’s path to a second straight national title. On Thursday, Princeton posed an early threat.
The Huskies jumped out to an early lead on the 2,000-meter course, but Princeton stayed within a boat’s length through the halfway mark. With coxswain Sam Ojserkis calling the shots and Dusan Milovanovic in the stroke seat, the Huskies took full control in the final 500 meters and won by open water with a time of 5:45.84, more than 2 seconds ahead of Princeton and the fastest time among all varsity eight boats.
“We wanted to move on and win the race, and we did that,” Ojserkis said. “We want to progress every day, and then make sure our best race is on Saturday. But we have a good foundation as well as some stuff to build on.”
The biggest surprise of the day might have been California’s struggle to get into Friday’s semifinals. A year ago Cal’s varsity eight finished third behind Washington and Harvard, and on Thursday the Golden Bears needed a late push to finish third behind Harvard and Boston University.
“I think in a national championship event like this, you can’t say one team is the team to beat,” Bunkers said. “Everybody feels they have the best shot.”
In addition to seeking their fourth NCAA title in six years, the Huskies are also on a quest to win their sixth straight Ten Eyck Trophy, awarded annually to the college program that accumulates the most overall points at the IRAs.
Washington is the only school that has ever won the overall points title five years in a row, and it got off to a good start on Thursday when all five UW boats won their heats. The second varsity eight, freshmen eight and varsity four recorded open-water victories over Brown, which finished second in each race.
|Shoulda had a V8|
|The lineup for the UW varsity eight:|
|Cox||Sam Ojserkis (Linwood, N.J.)|
|Stroke||Dusan Milovanovic (Novi Sad, Serbia)|
|7||Alex Bunkers (Maitland, Fla.)|
|6||Ryan Schroeder (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)|
|5||Mijo Rudelj (Kastel Ctafilic, Croatia)|
|4||Sebastian Peter (Kassel, Germany)|
|3||Sam Dommer (Folsom, Calif.)|
|2||A.J. Brooks (Costa Mesa, Calif.)|
|Bow||Rob Munn (Redmond)|