Expectations for Washington rowing, both men’s and women’s crews, are different than customary this spring.
Both teams made their competitive debuts Saturday in the 113th annual Class Day Regatta on Montlake Cut. During a rain-free window on a cool, breezy morning, the junior boat won the George M. Varnell Men’s Eight in 5:47.7, edging the sophomores by a four-seat margin. In the Seattle Times Women’s Eight, the seniors (6:12.4) were nearly 10 seconds faster than the second-place sophomores.
The Washington men, despite winning three straight national championships and five in the past seven, are ranked sixth in the preseason U.S. Rowing coaches’ poll. They open the regular season next Saturday at home vs. No. 7 Brown, No. 18 Oregon State and No. 19 Drexel.
Meanwhile, the women, reflecting a rebuilding effort begun in 2008 by director of rowing Bob Ernst, are ranked fourth in the debut NCAA poll as they prepare for the San Diego Crew Classic next weekend.
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“This is the best women’s team that I’ve coached,” said Ernst, in his seventh year as women’s coach. “This group is good.”
Men’s coach Michael Callahan says he lost 12 seniors from last year, many who played key roles in Washington’s two-year streak of sweeping all five grand finals at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships.
“We lost four out of the top eight, and four or five out of the second eight, so it’s about a complete eight out of our top two boats,” said Callahan, the 2013 IRA varsity coach of the year. “In collegiate rowing, having veteran guys always helps. They know what to expect, they’re confident. Now we have young guys.
“Everyone out there thinks we’re going to have an off year,” Callahan said. “We have great kids. I like the work that the guys have done, so we should expect good things. But we need to do it on race day. We buckled down this winter and did everything we could to make sure we’re good. But other teams out there are very, very good.”
Two members of the men’s junior boat — coxswain Lisa Caldwell, an Interlake grad, and Eric Ledbetter of Lakeside — may land varsity spots when Callahan determines his initial V8 lineup Wednesday.
“This boat might change quite a bit over the season,” Callahan said. “There are so many guys who are so close right now that I can see four different lineups for four different races. We’re still sorting it out, but the guys have sure put the effort in.”
The women’s boat will feature senior captain Patricia Obee, a Canadian Olympian, as the stroke and will likely include senior Maddie Johnson, a Ballard grad, as coxswain and sophomore Sarah Dougherty from Kentlake in a middle seat.
“I can’t wait for everyone to see the results,” Ernst said. “We’re getting a critical mass of high-performance rowers. To win a championship takes a lot of depth, and we have more depth than we’ve had. I think it’s going to be a real interesting season.”