Washington men’s crew is going for an unprecedented five IRA national titles while the Washington women’s crew is attempting to win its first national title since 2001.

Share story

Washington’s much-decorated rowing program is in position for what could be its most memorable championship weekend in years.

On Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., the UW men’s varsity eight will be rowing for history as it attempts to win an unprecedented fifth consecutive national title at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships.

With six national titles in the past eight years, including the last four (2011-14), Washington has joined California (1999-2002) and Cornell (1955-58 and 1909-12) as the only schools to have won four straight IRA crowns. UW would stand alone at five with a win in Sunday’s varsity eight grand final.

UW crew numbers

5 Number of consecutive IRA national titles the Husky men are gunning for this weekend, which would be a first.

1997 The last time the UW men and women won the national title in the same year.

2001 The last time the UW women won an NCAA championship

“We know it’s a huge opportunity,” said Michael Callahan, coach of UW’s top-ranked men’s varsity. “We’re just going to go for it.”

Meanwhile, at the NCAA Women’s Championships on Lake Natoma near Sacramento, fifth-ranked Washington will be gunning for the school’s first women’s trophy (signifying a top-four overall team finish) since the Huskies placed second at the 2008 NCAAs.

Doing so would cap off a multiyear effort by coach Bob Ernst to return the women’s program to the national prominence it experienced more than a decade ago when UW won NCAA titles in 2001, 1998 and 1997.

“We’ve been rebuilding the program systematically, doing it the right way,” Ernst said. “We’re getting closer and closer and closer.”

Both three-day events begin Friday with preliminary heats, followed by elimination races and semifinals Saturday, then grand finals on Sunday.

If the men perform as expected and the women, ranked as high as No. 2 earlier this season, have a breakthrough regatta, Washington could claim dual national titles for the first time since 1997, the only year UW achieved the feat.

The men, after absorbing their first nonexhibition defeat since 2010 on April 25 when they lost to rival California at home, rebounded strongly at the Pac-12 championships on May 17 with a four-second win over Cal.

“We were looking for the boat to find its rhythm,” said Callahan, who on Thursday was named the Pac-12 coach of the year for the sixth consecutive year. “We tried a few configurations of different people, tried a few things technically, and we found that rhythm.”

Callahan added a few new rowers into the varsity boat and juggled some seats. Eric Ledbetter, a senior and Lakeside grad who had been rowing in the fifth seat, is now in the bow. “He’s really had a solid year,” Callahan said.

UW men’s rowing

What: Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships

Where: Mercer Lake, West Windsor, N.J.

When: Friday (5 a.m. PT) through Sunday

Live Webcast: http://d3cast.com/rowing/

Cal and undefeated Ivy League champion Yale, winner of the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Sprints, loom as top challengers.

He believes UW is up to the task. “Everyone knows this is the final stretch,” Callahan said. “Everyone gets focused on the smaller details that really matter. They’re not taking any shortcuts on anything.”

UW women’s rowing

What: NCAA Crew Championships

Where: Lake Natoma, Gold River, Calif.

When: Friday (8:30 a.m. PT) through Sunday

Live Webcast:www.ncaa.com/liveschedule

On the women’s side, UW heads into the NCAAs with the top-seeded varsity four and second varsity eight boats in the 22-team field. UW’s V8 is seeded fifth. The combined point total of those three boats determines the NCAA team champion.

“The goal is to get all three boats into the finals,” Ernst said. “It looks like the big challenge is to get the varsity into the final. There are probably eight or nine teams that could get in that six-boat final. It’s going to be a street fight.”

Ernst says UW’s rebuilding efforts are ahead of schedule. “We’ve only got three seniors rowing, two in the varsity and one in the four,” he said. “We have two freshmen in the JV boat and only two juniors. The rest are all sophomores.”

Sophomore Bella Chilczuk (Kentridge) and junior Sarah Dougherty (Kentlake) row with the varsity eight. Senior Giuliana Chilczuk (Kentridge) and junior Melanie Barstow (Lake Washington) are in the V4. Ernst’s daughter, sophomore Abigail Ernst, is the stroke of the 2V8 boat, joining juniors Sophie Dalton (Holy Names) and Kadie Brown, a Federal Way native.

“For the last two years, the strength of our team was our varsity,” Ernst said. “Now we’re getting more and more depth, and I think this year’s varsity could be just as fast as last year’s (fourth in 2014). But we couldn’t get our JVs in the final. (UW finished seventh as a team last year.) If we can get the varsity in the final, then the championship point standings are going to look a whole lot different.”