The Washington varsity eight has enjoyed back-to-back undefeated seasons, culminating in consecutive IRA championships for the first time since 1940-41. Now, the Huskies, who are ranked No. 1 in the USRowing poll, are off to another promising start.
Of course, the Team That Never Loses can remember its last defeat. It happened 35 months ago, a month shy of three years. And while the Washington men’s rowing team has sweetened its dynasty with two straight national championships since then, please forgive the Huskies’ sorrow over barely missing out on a third.
“It’s that kind of race that sticks in the back of your head for the rest of your life,” senior Conlin McCabe said.
At the 2010 Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, the Washington men’s varsity eight lost a close race to rival California on the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, N.J., getting nipped by 0.26 seconds. McCabe, a sophomore then, recalls feeling like he let down senior bow Max Lang that day. For the next year, whenever the Huskies needed motivation, they would shout “point two six” to each other.
Since then, they haven’t lost a final.
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The varsity eight has enjoyed back-to-back undefeated seasons, culminating in consecutive IRA championships for the first time since 1940-41. Now, the Huskies, who are ranked No. 1 in the USRowing poll, are off to another promising start, already claiming impressive victories over No. 5 Brown and a dramatic come-from-behind triumph over No. 3 Cal. They also went to Cambridge in February and won a rare in-season international race.
The entire Washington men’s and women’s team (ranked No. 4) will be featured against Ivy Leaguers Dartmouth and Cornell in the Windermere Cup on Saturday. For the men’s varsity eight, it’s another important event en route to what the Huskies hope will be a third straight undefeated season and IRA national title. Next month wouldn’t just mark a three-year undefeated streak. If the Huskies can win a championship on June 2 on Lake Natoma in Rancho Cordova, Calif., it would be the first time in school history the program has won three straight IRA championships.
The Washington men’s team has won six consecutive Ten Eyck trophies, which is given to the overall points champion at the IRAs and signifies which program is best. But the varsity eight decides the national champion.
It’s the Varsity Challenge Cup that defines the Huskies every year. But don’t expect them to feel pressure to continue the hot streak.
This is a different group than the one that triumphed in 2012. And this is a vastly different group than the 2011 champion. The Huskies focused on making their own mark, not trying to live up to the past.
“Last year, we weren’t focusing on repeating,” said Michael Callahan, the seventh-year Washington men’s coach who won four national titles in his first six seasons. “Last year, I would say, ‘Hey, we’re going to repeat.’ And they would look away. Finally, I said, ‘Does that not motivate you guys?’ They said no. And right now, this group is not really focused on the year before. It’s a new rhythm, a new flow, new characters.
“This is a serious group. They’re down to business, almost too much so. I kind of think they need to have more fun. I’m a serious coach, and sometimes, with these guys, I wonder if I need to be more jovial just to balance things out. That’s how serious they are.”
This is a bigger and stronger varsity eight than the one from a year ago, especially with the 6-foot-8, 235-pound McCabe returning, but can they be as sound and efficient as the 2012 boat became? McCabe took a redshirt year last season to train with the Canadian national team for the Olympics, and he rowed in the No. 4 seat in Canada’s silver medal-winning eight at the London Olympics.
But he wants another college championship. Like everyone else, he’s willing to sacrifice to make it happen. The 2010 championship loss will always keep him humble.
The Washington men’s varsity eight is the most storied powerhouse in all of Seattle sports. The athletes change, but the standard doesn’t. The accomplishments of that boat are historic and cinema-worthy. And the goal in crew is always to come together and make the boat better, make it go faster.
“We can never be cocky,” McCabe said. “Every time we win another race, that target gets bigger on our backs. All teams know they just need to get that one boat to beat us once when it matters. It can be daunting to win under that kind of pressure, but it seems we’re on the right path always. We take so much confidence from how we approach things.”
Of course, the Team That Never Loses has a winning mentality.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @JerryBrewer