With a win already on their records, the Washington men’s and women’s rowing teams honored history Saturday by racing in the 118th edition of the Class Day Regatta, the traditional kickoff of UW’s rowing season.
In close to ideal conditions on the Montlake Cut (partly cloudy skies, mid 50s, fairly smooth water, a slight tailwind), the senior men’s eight convincingly duplicated their 2018 win as juniors by claiming the George Varnell Trophy with a two boat-length victory over this year’s juniors in a speedy 5 minutes, 36.48 seconds —20 seconds faster than their winning time last year.
The junior women’s eight — with a lineup that included Molly Gallaher (a Skyline grad, fifth seat), Emma Vagen (Kentwood, second seat) and Skylar Jacobson (Steilacoom, bow) — earned The Seattle Times Trophy with a six-seat victory over the seniors in a time of 6:19.338.
So begins another season with national-championship ambitions for both teams. Both are ranked No. 2 in early-season polls, and both recorded wins March 2 at the Las Vegas Invitational three years ago.
Both finished second at their championship events last June. At the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, the UW men finished less than three seconds behind two-time winner Yale. The women, who won the 2017 NCAA title in their first year under coach Yasmin Farooq, placed just two points behind California in last year’s neck-and-neck NCAA championship team standings.
The UW men won five straight IRA championships between 2011 and 2015. Coach Michael Callahan, entering his 12th season, views his 2019 squad as a serious contender for the top step on this year’s championship podium. He views the strong showing by his seniors Saturday as a good sign.
“Hopefully it’s a prelude to what’s going to happen for the rest of the season,” Callahan said. “We’ve got a lot of strong guys in our boathouse.”
Four were members of the American eight-man crew (coached by Callahan) that last July rowed to a gold medal at the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Poland: seniors Madison Molitor, Andrew Gaard and Chris Carlson, and junior Samuel Halbert, a Woodinville graduate.
Gaard, whose name provided the inspiration for the pirate theme (including on-board inflatable swords) displayed Saturday in the senior boat, was named USRowing’s U-23 male athlete of the year in 2018.
“He’s just the epitome of how to do it right,” Callahan said. “He’s a tough, quiet guy who leads by example.”
Carlson, Callahan says, ranks as the strongest rower in the U.S., collegian or graduate, on the ergometer.
“The energy in the boathouse this year has been pushing us toward the finish, and we’re looking forward to bringing it on the last day (at the IRAs),” said Molitor, a former walk-on from Moses Lake. “We want to be able to bring our best when it matters.”
Callahan, who’s squad was ranked No. 1 for more than a month in 2018, is eager to end UW’s two-year streak as runner-up to Yale.
“We have that artificial ceiling, and we’re challenging this class to break that,” he said. “They have the capabilities to be a championship-level crew, but they have to be able to do it on the last day.
“I’ve challenged our guys with mastery. I feel we’re no longer talking about the base principles of work ethic and how to be team leaders. Now it’s about mastering your craft and taking it to the next level. We rowed in snow in Canada in February. We rowed in the desert in March. We’re going to throw a lot at them this year to make sure they’re prepared for the last day.”
Farooq is emphasizing an advanced work load for her rowers to give them a championship-day edge. Most of her athletes began competing hours in pairs racing at 7 a.m. Saturday, hours before the regatta. Two-a-day practices are routine.
“We assessed we would benefit the most if we could spend a lot of time on the water, even more than we ever have,” she said. “In rowing you do a combination of rowing, erging (ergometer training) and lifting weights. We’ve traded in erging for rowing small boats on the water, just to develop our skills. That was an area where we could really make a lot of improvement, and the gains we’ve made since the beginning of the year are remarkable.”
- The women compete at the San Diego Crew Classic April 6-7 where the field includes No. 1 California, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Texas. The men row vs. Oregon State and at No. 13 Stanford on April 6. The annual Cal dual is split, both on Montlake Cut: the men on April 20, the women April 27.
- The men’s senior boat included Tennyson Federspiel (a Bellevue grad, fifth seat), Evan Olson (Bothell, second seat) and Elijah Maesner (Eastlake, third seat). “Maybe he wasn’t the highest-touted recruit, but he has developed incredibly, and he’s a huge force on our team now,” said Callahan, referring to Maesner. “Pound for pound, he’s one of the strongest guys on our team.”
- For the senior women, Saturday’s second-place finish marked the fourth time in four years their boat placed second in a Class Day Regatta. “I feel really, really good about that,” said Marlee Blue, a Holy Names graduate who, due to a thin senior class, was one of just four seniors in the boat. (The lineup included a freshman, sophomore, junior and an alum.) “We feel our class represents the underdog who can come together and pull something out of nothing.”
- The senior men, off to a blazing start in lane 1, moved into lane 2 after they had opened a two-length advantage in the first half of the race. “It was ‘an accident,’ ” said Molitor, eliciting laughs from his teammates. Not really, he finally conceded. “Put ‘em in the puddles,” he said. “Anytime you can do that, it’s a bit of a prod.”