California won the Grand Final in the varsity eight-plus and took the team title with a win in the varsity four-plus. UW was second in both races and the team race.
SARASOTA, Fla. — The Washington Huskies ignored the wind and rain in their faces. They even laughed a little bit about the Floridians scurrying around and fretting over subtropical storm Alberto approaching the state’s Gulf Coast.
The defending national champions blew past 20 other teams at the 22nd annual NCAA women’s rowing championships Saturday. But they couldn’t hold off the challenge from their Pac-12 rivals.
The University of California held off the Huskies in the all-important varsity fours and went on to capture the team crown with 130 points, two more than Washington in second place.
The Huskies needed to win the fours, the last Grand Final of the day, and hope the Bears finished no better than third on the 2,000-meter course at Nathan Benderson Park to pull off the repeat. But the Bears took the early lead and never relinquished it, topping Washington by less than a second in the most dramatic race of the wet and windy day.
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“We threw everything at it,” Washington rowing coach Yasmin Farooq said. “I know they left it all out there.
“As much as I would have liked to win it, I feel they really earned it. It was a great battle all the way.”
The Huskies became the first team in the history of the regatta to win all three Grand Finals during last year’s championship run. On Saturday, they claimed the gold medal in the second varsity eight, covering the distance in 6:21.081, more than six seconds quicker than Cal in second place.
Four Washington seniors were on that winning boat, including Jessica Thoennes.
“For us it’s all about having fun,” Thoennes said. “We have that tenacity that nobody can tell you what to do.
“We all trust our coxswain (Marley Avritt) implicitly. She was in the four last year. That girlfriend can row.
“We all trusted each other. Each one of us are together. My best friend is in that boat. We’re together through thick and thin in life. It shows in every step. It’s always been about a sisterhood, the team, the camaraderie.”
Thoennes and three other graduating Huskies, including Brooke Pierson, Brooke Mooney and Karle Pittsinger, are bound for Princeton, N.J., this summer where they will row at the USOC Training Site.
“The family is going to Princeton,” Thoennes said. “We gave everything we could. We were just a little short today. And that’s all right.
“We came here to do our best. That’s what we did. You never say if only.”
Cal was missing a rower on its first varsity eight due to a concussion when Washington won that race recently at the Pac-12 championships. That rower returned on Saturday as the Bears held off the charge by the Huskies. The Bears won by nearly two seconds.
The national regatta was originally scheduled to last three days with the finals slated for Sunday. But with Alberto looming out in the Gulf, officials picked up the pace and scheduled the semifinals for Saturday morning and the finals during the afternoon.
“We felt that having two races in one day was going to play to our strengths,” Farooq said. “We really did.
“We don’t usually race the semifinals the same day as the finals. But we were certainly ready for that.”
As for the threatening weather in the area, Farooq mentioned a practice earlier this season that entailed sunshine, snow, rain and hail, all in the same session, back in Seattle.
“We had to laugh a little bit,” she said.
The Huskies have won a national title and finished national runner-up in Farooq’s first two seasons at the helm.
“Every year is different and every journey is different,” Farooq said.