INDIANAPOLIS – When Washington junior Marley Avritt, the coxswain for the varsity eight, saw her crew fall to last in the six-team grand final of the NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships on Sunday, she figured something magical had to happen.
“We knew this would be one of the most competitive NCAA races ever,” Avritt said. “When we crossed the 1K mark and were in last, we had to do something special.”
Something special did happen. Avritt and the varsity eight ran down the likes of Pac-12 rivals California and Stanford, Big Ten behemoths Ohio State and Michigan and finally Texas to pull out the race and spur the Huskies on to a national championship.
For the second time in three years, Washington swept its way to the title — winning the varsity eight, the second varsity eight and the varsity fours to finish with 132 points, claiming the title at the Indianapolis Rowing Center.
It marked only the second time in the 23-year history of the event a school has swept all three races. The first came in 2017 by the Huskies.
“Was I thinking sweep? Not at all,” UW coach Yasmin Farooq said. “When you have so many teams contending, it can shake out so many different ways.”
The Huskies beat runner-up Texas (125 points) and third-place Michigan (119) to claim their fifth title in NCAA history. Washington also won in 1997, 1998 and 2001 and was runner-up to California last year.
The Huskies came into the championships as the fourth seed, then won their semifinal race Saturday.
In the Grand Final, the Huskies started in lane five, then saw Michigan and Texas set the pace in a tightly bunched field, while Washington fell to sixth midway through the race.
“The conditions were wild,” Avritt explained. “There was a tailwind and it made the water a bit choppy. Plus, the other five teams were awesome. Even though we were last, I knew we were still in it.”
Midway through the Huskies began to move up, and over the final 500 meters it came down to UW and Texas, which had a slight lead.
“With 300 (meters) left, I jumped on a picnic table and was yelling my head off,” Farooq said. “They had incredible momentum and I could feel their belief in each other. I knew they would drain it.”
“It was great to have the other five teams pushing us,” Avritt said. “It felt like every single stroke mattered and we were pulling ahead by an inch with each one. With three strokes left, I looked up and when the buzzer sounded, I knew we had it.”
“That last 500 was truly just a will to win,” Farooq said. “The thing about the NCAAs is that it’s three days of back-to-back racing and the best race has to be on the last day.”
The Huskies finished with an NCAA record time of 6:07.28 — just 0.69 seconds ahead of the Longhorns.
In contrast to the varsity eight, Washington came into the finals as the top seed in the second eight and the fours and maintained that level after winning both races in Saturday’s semifinal round.
Texas again proved to be the toughest competition in the second eight, holding a seven-seat lead halfway to the finish. The Huskies, with coxswain Amanda Durkin, again proved the strongest down the stretch, pretty much pulling even with 500 meters left, then going on to win in another NCAA-record 6:11.26. Texas came in at 6:12.32.
The fours race wasn’t as tight. Stanford led early but by the 1,500-meter mark the Huskies established a lead they didn’t relinquish.
The fours, with coxswain Dana Brooks, finished in 6:52.45 – another NCAA record — with Stanford coming in at 6:55.64.
“The boat meetings before we launched (Sunday) were emotional,” Farooq said. “The emotion comes when you realize there are only 240 strokes left in the season. We walked them through each race and made them understand what they had to do to execute for the conditions and the competition.
“Every boat rowed to an inspired performance.”