UW’s eight, with sophomore Rielly Milne at coxswain and junior Philip Walczak serving as stroke, rallied to win by roughly a half-boat length, 5:39.290 to 5:40.648, on a cool, overcast morning with calm water and a modest quartering headwind.

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Employing a new-look lineup thin on varsity experience, Washington men’s rowing coach Michael Callahan called Saturday’s season-opening varsity eight win over No. 6 Brown on Montlake Cut “a great first step.”

After winning an unprecedented fifth straight national championship last June, top-ranked Washington competed Saturday with just one rower, junior Ezra Carlson (seventh seat), who rowed with last year’s championship V8.

The Huskies fell behind Brown at the start and trailed by a 0.9 second at the 500-meter split.

Yet UW’s eight, with sophomore Rielly Milne at coxswain and junior Philip Walczak serving as stroke, rallied to win by roughly a half-boat length, 5:39.290 to 5:40.648, on a cool, overcast morning with calm water and a modest quartering headwind.

“This is a very raw group, and they were put under a lot of pressure immediately by Brown,” Callahan said. “I thought we responded really well.”

Callahan had just one senior, Finn Schroeder (sixth seat), in Saturday’s V8 boat.

“That’s it,” Callahan said of the varsity experience in his initial 2016 lineup. “The coxswain (Milne) was not even in the first freshman boat last year. I thought he did a nice job. Everyone stayed cool, stayed internal.”

Milne was happy with UW’s showing. “We weren’t frantic,” he said. “It might have been not as aggressive as we wanted or as quick in the first 500, but that led to a better middle 1,000 when we could get some long strokes going. Then we just stayed collected through the last 500.”

Milne understands that other collegiate crews sense that UW, winners of five straight V8 titles and seven in the past nine years, might be vulnerable after graduation skimmed a lot of cream from its roster. Meanwhile Yale, which defeated Washington last July at the Henley Royal Regatta in England, returned its entire V8 lineup.

“Ever since then,” Milne said of the loss to Yale, “we’ve always said, ‘All right, we’re the underdogs this year. There’s no getting around that. They returned more guys than we did.”

Milne barked out “underdogs” once during Saturday’s race. “It was in like a key location, coming into the last 1,000. That’s kind of sending a message to whoever else is watching. From there we started taking seats.”

Notes

• UW defeated Brown by six seconds in the second varsity eight race (5:54.613 to 6:00.619) and placed 1-2 in a third race, with the third varsity eight winning (5:53.737), followed by the freshman eight (5:55.102) and the Brown 3V8 (5:47.412).

• The UW men and women row on Montlake Cut next Saturday against Washington State and Oregon State.