The UW crews are set to finally return to competition after a long break because of the coronavirus.
They’re more than ready.
“I can’t recall the last time I saw people more excited about going to a race,” said women’s coach Yaz Farooq, whose team opens the season Saturday at the Las Vegas Invitational. “There were many points where you weren’t sure if you were going to have a season.”
The Windermere Cup is returning, too, after a one-year absence, it was announced Wednesday.
But it won’t be a typical Opening Day, with fans not allowed to gather on the Montlake Cut. Most of the traditional festivities have been canceled, including the log boom and the boat parade.
Although international crews will not be competing in the Windermere Cup on May 1, the competition will still be tough as the annual dual races with California will take place.
“I think just the mere fact that we get to go against an opponent — one that we respect at a high level, and one that is very good — our kids are going to be ecstatic,” said UW men’s coach Michael Callahan on competing in a Windermere Cup without fans. “In the end, your head has got to be in the boat if you want to do well. The crowds matter, for sure. We know we have a lot of supporters, and (they’ll be there) in spirit.”
Farooq said “Husky rowers are spoiled” because of the cheering for all 2,000 meters in the Windermere Cup. But she said not having fans this season has “been a chance to work on the livestreaming of the races.”
“We absolutely want our friends, families and fans to be able to enjoy the races, so we are going to try to get it up a notch and bring people into the boats if we can, with a coxswain camera and things like that,” Farooq said of the livestream that will be available on gohuskies.com. “If they can’t be there to cheer us on in person, we’re going to bring them into the boat to the best of our ability to see what it’s like to be in a race.”
The women’s crew, the defending national champs, competed once last season — just outside Las Vegas on Feb. 29, 2020 — before its season was canceled. Farooq said she got emotional when the trailer with the team’s equipment left for Saturday’s event.
“After everything we’ve been through since the season was canceled last year, it was overwhelming, in that, ‘We’re actually going to have a season,’ ” she said.
The men, second in the 2019 IRA national championships, open their season March 27 with the annual Class Day Regatta on the Montlake Cut, which the women will also participate in. The men haven’t officially competed since hosting the Head of the Lake Regatta on Nov. 3, 2019.
Callahan is optimistic, in part because he has a veteran team with 17 seniors and graduate assistants “that understand what needs to be done.” Several seniors elected to come back for another year.
“I have some students who haven’t been home since August of 2019,” he said. “That’s because they’re from Germany … and that’s a pretty big commitment to stay this whole time, and not to see your family in the summer or the holidays. But this is the safest place they can be, they believe, and they’ve also made (rowing) progress.”
Farooq said she likes what she sees from her team.
“The training we have done so far this season has been extremely promising,” said Farooq, whose team has won two of the past three national championships.
Both teams will compete a few times before the Pac-12 championships, tentatively scheduled to be held May 16, at Lake Natoma in Gold River, Calif.
The NCAA women’s championships are May 28-30 in Sarasota, Florida. The IRA championships for men are at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, New Jersey, that same weekend.
Some teams are not expected to compete in the national championships, including the Yale men’s team, the defending national champions.
The Huskies are just happy to be back, no matter the competition.
“We’re focused on what we can do,” Callahan said.
The 2021 men’s and women’s crew schedules:
Saturday — Las Vegas Invitational (women) vs. WSU, Lake Las Vegas, Henderson, Nev.
March 27 — Class Day Regatta, Montlake Cut (men and women)
April 3 — Oregon State Dual (men), Dexter Lake, Ore.
April 10-11 — Lake Las Vegas Pac-12 Invitational (women), Lake Las Vegas, Henderson, Nev.
April 17 — Stanford Dual (men), Redwood Shores, Calif.
April 24 — UW women vs. USC, OSU and Gonzaga, Dexter Lake, Ore.
May 1 — Windermere Cup/Opening Day vs. Cal, Montlake Cut, Seattle
May 16 — Pac-12 Championships, Lake Natoma, Gold River, Calif.
May 28-30 — IRA Championship (men), Mercer Lake, West Windsor, N.J.
May 28-30 — NCAA Championships (women), Benderson Park, Sarasota, Fla.