With its annual intramural Class Day Regatta, rowing season at Washington opened with two questions: One, after winning a fifth straight national championship last year, can UW’s men win a sixth? And two, after November’s ouster of coach Bob Ernst, who’s the interim coach?
With its annual intramural Class Day Regatta, rowing season at Washington opened Saturday with two questions:
After winning an unprecedented fifth straight national championship last year, can UW’s men win a sixth?
After November’s surprising ouster of Hall of Fame coach Bob Ernst, who’s the new guy running the women’s program as interim coach?
Saturday on Montlake Cut, the juniors won the George Varnell Men’s Eight trophy, edging the seniors in a photo finish by 0.196 of a second (5:39.413 to 5:39.609), and the senior women followed their 2015 victory as juniors with another win, defeating the freshmen by almost three seconds to win The Seattle Times Women’s Eight trophy, 6:21.454 to 6:24.443.
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The men, ranked No. 1 in the preseason U.S. Rowing poll, host No. 6 Brown next Saturday. The women, who finished fourth at last year’s NCAA championships (UW’s best finish since 2008), will race next Saturday at Oregon State.
Even though Washington won championship races in all five categories at last year’s Intercollegiate Rowing Association nationals, UW did not pull all the first-place votes in the initial poll. UW men’s coach Michael Callahan was not surprised.
“The depth of the competition has risen that last couple of years,” he said. “Yale (No. 2), Princeton (No. 3), Brown, Harvard (No. 5) and California (tied at No. 3) are all very good. We lost to Yale this summer at the Henley Royal Regatta, and they’re returning their entire boat.”
Is a sixth straight title attainable? “Physiologically, we’re on pace with any team we’ve had before,” Callahan said. “We have to turn that into boat speed, and we’re in that transition period from the work we did in the winter into boat speed, and I like what I see.”
On the women’s side, 32-year-old former first assistant Conor Bullis has replaced Ernst, who after 41 seasons at Washington was fired in November after some rowers complained to UW’s athletic administration they were not having a “positive experience” due to Ernst’s coaching style.
Dani Olson, a fifth-year senior named women’s captain for a second straight year, says she and her fellow rowers have not lost focus due to the coaching change. “It was a rough transition,” she said. “I think we executed it as gracefully as we could.”
Was the switch a positive thing overall? “I can’t really speak to that,” she said. “Bob Ernst really made me into a great athlete and a great person. He was a great mentor to me. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with him, and I’m sad that he’s not here. I want him to see us as we are now, because this is the team that is going to do it (contend for a national title). We’re just sad that it happened that way.”
Bullis, a 2001 Garfield grad and former Oregon State rower who was hired by Ernst in the fall of 2011 as his first assistant and novice eight coach, is grateful for the opportunity with hopes that maybe someday “interim” will be dropped from his title.
“This is the best job in the country,” he said.
“No one expected this to happen, no one planned for it. Nobody wanted it to be this way. I’ve learned a ton from Bob and I was honored to be his assistant. These are huge shoes to fill. I’ll never fill his shoes unless I’m here for 42 years.”