The Washington women’s crew team is expecting other teams to come after them at the NCAA championships this week in Sarasota, Florida.
That’s just part of the territory of being the defending national champions.
Teams coming after them? Yes. Alligators? That’s something they weren’t counting on.
The Huskies arrived in Florida last weekend for the NCAA women’s rowing championships, which run Friday through Sunday.
When they got on the water for the first time to start preparing, they were greeted rather rudely.
“I’ve been doing this for a while, and I always say to myself, ‘Never say you’ve seen it all, because when you say that, you see something you’ve definitely never seen,’ ” said UW women’s crew coach Yaz Farooq.
Like what took place on that first training day in DeLand, Florida, where the team has to row about a mile in the St. Johns River to reach Lake Beresford. Alligators live in that river, which the team soon found out.
“Teal Cohen’s blade hit the alligator, and the alligator freaked out and flipped and landed on Lark Skov’s oar, and she got launched out of her (rowing) shoes and she landed on Angharad Broughton, who was in the 3 seat behind her,” Farooq said. “She landed right on the point of Ang’s shoes. She essentially got a shoe in her glute.”
Skov was able to row the rest of the workout, but was limping afterward. She has since recovered, but Washington faces another challenge in the water this weekend.
In women’s rowing, the national title is determined on points from three races: the first varsity eight, the second varsity eight and the four. UW is seeded No. 2 in the first eight, first in the second eight and fifth in the four.
Texas, ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll, is the No. 1 seed in the varsity eight, the No. 2 seed in the second eight and the No. 2 seed in the four. The Longhorns have not lost a race in any of those events this season, and if the seedings correlate with performance, they would win the national title.
“They earned that No. 1 ranking, because they have been undefeated all season (in the three races that are held at the NCAA championships),” Farooq said. “They were the one undefeated team.”
Seedings, of course, mean nothing when the races begin. Washington’s lower seeding in the four is based on the fact the Huskies lost by 12 seconds to Stanford in the Pac-12 championships while finishing second.
The Huskies can take heart in the fact they were not at full strength at the Pac-12 championships two weeks ago. Fifth-year senior Tabea Schendekehl missed the event, with the team’s blessing, to return to Germany for Olympics qualifying.
Schendekehl will be back in her normal No. 7 seat in the first varsity eight boat this weekend, which should positively affect all three boats.
“We knew that all of our lineups were going to have to adjust from the Windermere Cup to the Pac-12 (because of Schendekehl’s absence),” Farooq said. “That affects all of your lineups.”
Washington won the Pac-12 championship despite that, earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA championships.
Farooq said because there was less direct competition this season, there are a lot more unknowns than usual, and she said teams will learn a lot when heat racing takes place Friday morning.
The semifinals are Saturday morning and the finals are Sunday morning. The races will be streamed online and can be viewed at st.news/UWcrew.
“I think it’s going to be ultracompetitive and we are really happy to be here and contending,” Farooq said. “I promise you, I am not thinking beyond the heats.”
Farooq will have fifth-year seniors — who took advantage of an extra year of eligibility — in two of the three boats: Schendekehl and Skylar Jacobson in the first varsity eight boat, and Skov, Dana Brooks and Molly Gallaher in the second boat.
“To have these people who chose to stay for another year, and truly be engaged and excited at every practice every day, and during a pandemic — all I can say is that they have brought a level of energy to this team, and I am so appreciative and grateful they returned,” Farooq said.
Farooq said by coincidence, all four teams from the state who are at the championships — UW, Washington State, Pacific Lutheran and Gonzaga — are all staying in DeLand. “We saw Washington State out on the lake (Monday) morning and when they launched, we all cheered,” Farooq said.
– Here are the times (PDT) for Sunday’s grand finals: varsity four, 7 a.m. PT; second varsity eight, 7:24 a.m. PT; varsity eight, 7:48 a.m. PT