Washington will be rowing for a spot in history this weekend as the No. 1-ranked men’s varsity eight crew takes aim at a fourth consecutive national title at the 112th annual Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships in West Windsor, N.J.
Only three times in the competition’s long history have schools won four consecutive IRA crowns: California (1999-2002) and Cornell (1955-58 and 1909-12).
That comes as news to UW men’s coach Michael Callahan, but he views it as a footnote to what he anticipates will be a competitive three days of racing, with preliminary heats for 22 schools beginning Friday at 5 a.m. PDT on Mercer Lake, a first-time site for the IRAs.
“We already think we’re a marked target out there,” Callahan said. “Right now we’re just focused on our preparation. If we add pressure, it wouldn’t be good for our preparation. But it’s a nice place to be for our program, and as coaches we’re proud of that.”
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Washington has won five national titles the past seven years and seven consecutive Ten Eyck Trophies, awarded to the school that accumulates the most overall points. No one else has ever claimed more than four Ten Eyck honors in a row. Washington has swept all five grand finals, from varsity eight through varsity 4, the past two years, another IRA first.
The Huskies began the year ranked sixth in the coaches’ poll but in the latest poll they own all 11 first-place votes after victories this season over No. 4 Brown and No. 2 California. Third-ranked Harvard, winner at the Eastern Sprints Regatta two weeks ago, has Callahan’s attention.
“There are a lot of other strong crews here,” he said. “Harvard has a pretty special group of guys. They’ve rowed well the last couple of years, so I’m sure they’re hungry. And we always have great races with California. So we’ll have to have our best race.”
Washington’s varsity eight consists of two Californians, six international rowers and sophomore Australian Stuart Sim at coxswain, newly promoted from the second varsity boat. It’s a mostly a new lineup from last year.
“We had a lot of turnover in our boat,” Callahan said. “We have some special athletes most people don’t know about who really did some great work. It’s kind of a quiet, hard-nosed group that’s focused on rowing their best. We’re well-prepared, and we’re going to go for it.”
Women race for NCAA title
The sixth-ranked Washington women are in Indianapolis for the NCAA championships, part of a 22-school field that features defending champion and top-ranked Ohio State and No. 2 Stanford, which swept major races two weeks ago at the Pac-12 championships.
Unlike the IRAs, the NCAA title goes to the school with the best combined scores in three races: varsity eight, second varsity eight and varsity four. The semifinals for each category are Saturday, the finals Sunday. UW has placed sixth the past two years, last winning the title in 2001.
How close to the top of the podium does women’s coach Bob Ernst expect UW to ascend this year?
“Closer than we did last year,” he said. “We have better team depth than we had last year. There’s going to be some pretty good racing here, and I think we’re going to be in the thick of it.”
Senior Maddy Johnson, a Ballard grad, will be the varsity eight’s coxswain. Sophomore Sarah Dougherty of Kentlake will row in the No. 2 seat.
“The racing here will be incredibly competitive,” Ernst said. “It’s by far the highest standard of any racing in North America. You really need to get all of your boats into the finals if you want to finish in the top four. It’s all about the total performance of your top 20 athletes.”
|A look at how the UW crews have done the past seven years:|
|UW men||Varsity 8||2nd Varsity 8|
|UW women||Varsity 8||2nd Varsity 8|
|Men’s note: The varsity eight final determines the IRA national champion. Washington varsity eight crews also won IRA titles in 1997, 1970, 1950, 1948, 1941, 1940, 1937, 1936, 1926, 1924 and 1923 (16 total).|
|Women’s note: Combined team results in the varsity eight, second varsity eight and varsity four determine the NCAA champion. Washington won team titles in 2001, 1998 and 1997. The Huskies last won the varsity eight race in 2002.|