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Pull Time on Mercer Lake for the NCAA Championships
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Ed Moran,
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University of Washington on the Pac-12 podium

Dual racing is over, conference championships are done, selections are complete and the field for the NCAA Championships is set and ready.

The teams that will be in West Windsor, New Jersey for the NCAA championships are either on their way, buttoned down in camps to fine tune and acclimate to East Coast time, or unloading trailers on site at Mercer County Park today.

And now, for most of the teams in the three-day regatta that begins Friday on Mercer Lake, much of what happened prior to this weekend will not matter a whole bunch on Monday morning.

It's time to pull for the women's collegiate podium and bragging rights until next season.

"The NCAA's are so competitive. You always know that there are up to six teams that could win it on any given day, and even more contenders for the four podium spots," said Yaz Farooq who is leading the University of Washington women in her first year as the Huskies' head coach.

"I've never looked beyond the heat," she said. "My first NCAA championship, our varsity eight was in a four-boat photo finish in the heat. It's May Madness. One year we lost the national championship due to a difference of .05 in the varsity eight final and one year we got on the podium by winning a photo finish by .02.

"What everyone thinks is going to happen after day one is completely different on day two. While our races are sprints, the event itself is a marathon and you have to be successful at each stage with your best race on the last day. I keep an open mind about it and have prepared our team to be tested every single day."

Here is a quick look at the some of the story lines.

Division I

While Farooq is keeping an "open mind" the rest of the field will most likely be keeping an open eye on the University of Washington.

Washington enters the heats ranked first in the Collegiate Coaches Association polling and is the top seed in all three boat catagories. Washington has held the top of the polls for six weeks, and capped their regular season with a Pac-12 Championship and a sweep of all five races. It was their seventh sweep of the season.

"It's been quite the journey," Farooq said of her first season in Washington. "Winning all five events at the Pac-12's was amazing. To have every person on the team go up on the stage and get a trophy is something none of us will ever forget or take for granted."

Top seeds are always targets to be toppled and this year - like every year - there are more than enough eager teams hoping to do just that.

The University of California is the defending D1 champion and is the regatta second seed. Cal women have finished top three at the championships for the last nine seasons. The Bears were hoping for their third consecutive Pac-12, were undefeated prior to the competition, and had defeated Washington on the Montlake Cut for the Simpson Cup.

Proving the point that top seeds are made to be toppled, Washington ended Cal's conference streak.

If anyone says this is going to be a West Coast show on the East Coast, tell them to have a second look at the teams that will race, and do not discount anyone.

In the varsity eights behind Cal in the top five are Texas, Princeton and Ohio State, all of whom are having fast and successful seasons.

(See the full D1 NCAA selection list and boat seeding here. Check out the full season of poll results on

Texas, led by former Cal head coach Dave O'Neill has been inching up the expectations ladder since he grabbed the Longhorns job three years ago. Texas finished the season with a grand finals sweep for a third consecutive year and hauled in its seventh conference team title at the Big 12 Championships. 

Dave O'Neill and the Texas Longhorns

"Our season has gone quite well, and we're definitely pleased with the results," O'Neill said. "We've probably traveled more than any other team in the championship, and that always presents challenges.

"However, I give everyone credit for racing hard each weekend, and there has been solid improvement each week as well. Both of our top eights have gone undefeated thus far, but we haven't taken anything for granted.

"Line-ups have evolved into what I think are some pretty good crews," he said. "We're a relatively young team with only two seniors racing at NCAA's, but I don't see this as a problem. It's a mature, focused and fun team to be in right now, and we're certainly not lacking for motivation this weekend."

Division II

At the top of the final regular season CRCA DII poll is Western Washington. Western finished behind Barry University and Central Oklahoma in the team points. Barry is the defending champions going into the weekend, but is ranked seventh in the eight-school division.

Western Washington at SDCC

Western Washington coach John Fuchs is happy with the way his team has performed so far, but has only raced one of the participating teams he will face this weekend. "The season has gone well," Fuchs said.

"The team produced some hardware for the boathouse and raced well at every regatta. We would have liked to be faster at Windermere, but that regatta is always a challenge for us being the week after WIRA.

"We have only faced UCSD, so we really know very little about the other teams. They have been having successful racing, as well. Hopefully, the weather isn't surprising. We don't have the violent cells that roll through the Northwest for sure."

Like many teams, each season has its challenges, and for Fuchs and his squad it was an injury.

"We had a significant injury during the first heat of WIRA," he said. "It nearly knocked us out of the final, maybe ending our season for us. Luckily, she has recovered, but it was the team's resilience that let them continue the next day with different lineups and win. Right then, we knew we had a tough confident group. Nothing deters them."

Ranked second in the polls is University of Central Oklahoma. This is coach Montia Rice's first time at the championship at the helm at Central Oklahoma, but as a former assistant, he recruited many of the athletes and knows them and what they are capable of.

Monday afternoon, Rice was just pulling out of Oklahoma, pulling the team's boats and equipment trailer, but he took a moment to talk to row2k.

"Overall, the season went really well," Rice said. "I was the assistant in the fall and took over for spring and the transition has gone well. I was the assistant for two years. I recruited most of the girls and they all knew me and were pretty receptive to me taking over."

The biggest issue for the Bronchos, Rice said, was the weather and the schedule. "The main challenge that we had was lack of racing. Between the bad weather that we had and scheduling, we had two races in March, and technically we didn’t race anybody in April because of races getting canceled."

The bad weather situation followed Rice and his women all the way to the Dad Vails. But the weekend of pouring rain did not deter them. "We were able to pull off a win in the eight and did well in the four by finishing fourth in the final."

And so, he is heading back East again.

Rice sees Western Washington as the team to keep an eye on. "They look to be strong and dominant but we're hoping to be right there with them and perform well. We have a good chance to stay right there with them and maybe get them in the eight."

Right behind the Bronchos in the polls at third is Mercyhurst University. "They always seem to find more speed through the year. It seems to be, overall, a very competitive field," Rice said.

Mercyhurst coach Adrian Spracklen agrees with that conclusion.

"The championships this year looks very tight,' he said. "For the East coast schools, Western Washington is the unknown quantity and leads to much anticipation. This is a quality field, and on any given day, I think anyone can win.

"I don't think anyone will be underestimated or overlooked. Everyone is tough and I have a lot of respect for the other coaches and programs," Spracklen said. "My hope is for our team to have fun, race hard and enjoy the experience."

Spracklen said Mercyhurst had both weather problems and injury issues, but bounced back for Dad Vails.

"We had a lot of illness and injuries in the beginning, and the long cold snap in March put us back about one to two weeks from what I had hoped," he said. "We did not have the lineups I wanted until Dad Vail when we finally got healthy. Coming third at Dad Vail in the eight, and the four winning the petite final, was a great confidence builder and gave us much needed momentum."

Division III

Bates College Varsity Eight

Bates, Williams and Ithaca are ranked in the top three of their poll, with Bates coming into the championships as the runner up last season in the team points.

And, yes, the weather in Maine was cold. "Our biggest challenge of the year was the ice," said coach Peter Steenstra. "The NCAA regatta marks the sixth week of rowing for the Bates program this spring"

As for the competition, Steenstra's assessment mirrors the spring racing results. "As shown at the NIRC, both Williams and Ithaca are strong. They're both well coached teams with long traditions and high expectations. We're looking forward to a great race that will likely require all 2K to determine a winner."

For Williams head coach Kate Maloney, the season has been a rollercoaster.

Williams College eight

"It's definitely had its ups and downs," she said. "But the consistent message and plan has been to raise our level of performance as a whole throughout the year and to let the results give us information as to where we need to strengthen or change our approach to training and racing.

"It can be a challenge to course correct over the short spring season, but it is a challenge that this particular team relishes," Maloney said. "They have leaned into the work and responded to the increased expectations as the year has gone on and I am really excited to see where they end!"


Log in to comment
05/24/2017  6:12:34 PM
Hi! This article contained false information. Central Oklahoma was the DII runner up to Barry last year, not Western Washington. Thank you!

05/24/2017  8:43:42 PM
Fixed now; thanks for letting us know!


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