Oh, so painfully close.
The defending champion Washington women’s rowing team, seemingly primed to repeat after winning the first two races, finished third in the pivotal varsity eight Sunday morning after a two-hour delay because of lightning at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida.
Texas, which won the varsity eight, Stanford and Washingon each finished with 126 points, but the tiebreaker is the varsity eight finish. That placed the Huskies a heartbreaking third, and gave Texas the title.
“It always comes down to the varsity eight, and it should,” said UW coach Yaz Farooq. “I am incredibly proud of all three of our boats.”
Washington led early in the race, but was soon passed by Stanford and then Texas. The Longhorns rallied past Stanford to win, and if Washington could pass Stanford and finish second, it would win the title.
But Stanford did not let Washington get by. Texas won with a time of 6:17.38 in the 2,000-meter race. Stanford finished in 6:18.90, and the Huskies’ time was 6:21.71.
“We knew that varsity eight race was really going to be epic,” Farooq said. “It’s pretty crazy that they almost got it off, and then we had to all hang out in vans.”
That weather delay gave all three varsity eight teams a chance to know exactly where they stood because they found out the outcomes of the other races, and “normally you don’t know that,” Farooq said.
The UW coach dimissed the idea of that being any advantage to Texas or Stanford.
“We all knew what we had to do, and what it was going to come down to to win the race,” Farooq said.
It was the first time the NCAA rowing championships (dating to 1997) ended in a three-way tie. Two teams have tied for first three times, the last time in 2011.
It was a tough end for the Huskies, after starting the morning with an upset win in the four and an electrifying rally in the second varsity eight.
Washington was seeded fifth in the four after losing to Stanford by 12 seconds in the Pac-12 championships. UW was five seconds behind Stanford in the semifinals Saturday, but the Huskies were ready when it mattered most.
Stroke Carmen McNamara-Smith, No. 3 seat Fiona Shields, No. 2 Katherine Slack, bow Sophia Chaffey and coxswain Sachi Yamamoto (all from the Seattle area) — the same lineup that finished second to Stanford on Saturday — fell behind Stanford and Texas in the first 500 yards.
But surely and steadily, the Huskies started gaining, passing first Texas and then Stanford. The Cardinal made a late surge, but UW held on to win in 7:02.17. Stanford was a second back at 7:03.25.
Top-ranked Texas, which had not lost a race in the three events all season coming into the NCAA championships, was third.
It was close enough at the end with Stanford that Yamamoto said “we didn’t know for five minutes” if Washington had won. Finally, confirmation came.
“That’s when the real celebration began,” said Yamamoto, who said the plan was to “go hard, and then go even harder.”
Said Farooq: “Those guys just truly gutted that race out. It was an incredible effort.”
The Huskies’ win in the second varsity eight race was even more dramatic. Once again, UW fell behind Stanford and Texas. The Cardinal opened a substantial lead and still led comfortably with 500 meters left.
But the Cardinal started to tire and the Huskies came roaring back, overtaking Stanford in the final 100 meters or so to win. UW finished in 6:23.23 and Stanford in 6:24.48. Texas was third.
“It was an epic finish,” said McKenna Bryant, the stroke on UW’s second varsity eight. “With 300 (meters) to go, we knew what was going to be the end, and we wanted to come across first, and we gave everything we could. … We never gave up, that’s the thing. Three hundred (meters) to go and five seats down, and we said, ‘No, we’re going.’ “
Farooq was certainly impressed with the boat.
“I think the common denominator in the (four and the second varsity eight) was persistence,” the coach said.
With the teams at the starting line for the varsity eight grand final — the final race of the day — dangerous weather arrived. Rowers were told to seek cover.
Washington, which swept all three races in 2017 and 2019, the only team to accomplish the feat, had a chance to do it again. But this time the Huskies fell a bit short.
“Obviously, it would have been amazing to win all three races, but Texas earned the win and Stanford finished second in all three events,” Farooq said. “I am really proud of the performance we put out there today because that third-place finish is symbolic of a hard-fought season.”
* The team’s final COVID-19 test was Friday, and as has been the case all season, there were no positive cases. The UW men’s crew, which won the national title Saturday, also did not have a COVID case all season, Farooq said.
* UW’s varsity eight lineup: coxswain Nina Castagna, stroke Ella Cossill, No. 7 Tabea Schendekehl, No. 6 Holly Dunford, No. 5 Holly Drapp, No. 4 Isabel van Opzeeland, No. 3 Angharad Broughton, No. 2 Teal Cohen, bow Skylar Jacobson.
UW’s second varsity lineup: coxswain Dana Brooks, stroke McKenna Bryant, No. 7 Dimitra Tsamopoulou, No. 6 Molly Gallaher, No. 5 Taylor Buell, No. 4 Nikki Martincic, No. 3 Lark Skov, No. 2 Joïe Zier, bow Brittani Shappell.