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A Day of Firsts for Washington Caps the 2017 NCAA Championship
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Ed Moran,
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Washington takes the team championship among the streamers

Washington Coach Yaz Farooq was up to her waist in the brownish water of Mercer Lake surrounded by part of her team while waiting for the varsity eight to reach the shore for the impending celebration.

Each of the UW athletes standing with her - actually it was more like jumping around and dancing - had played a part in what Washington had just accomplished.

Call it a day of firsts.

At the start of her first year at Washington since leaving Stanford University and taking over the storied program, Farooq pulled her new team together and laid out the challenge: Buy in to the challenges she set and win.

And they did. Washington swept all three varsity events, becoming the first program in the history of the 21-year regatta to do so. It was the fourth national title for the Seattle university and the first since 2001. Across the board, Washington was first to the finish line and first in points.

And now Farooq was trying to be the first to swim to greet her varsity eight. But they got there first still again on Sunday in West Windsor, New Jersey at the 2017 NCAA Rowing Championship.

Lost in the crowd of the Washington athletes, Farooq emerged from the pack and climbed onto the varsity shell and hugged each of the nine women who had just closed the deal in the final, biggest event of the day - the women's first varsity eight.

Washington V8 swarmed by teammates in the lake

"We knew that race was going to be the tightest race of all of them, with all of the crews in there, with Cal and Stanford being so fast off the line and Texas being the late chargers," Farooq said. "We had to stake our claim early and then just insist on winning every stroke, and that's what they did."

Throughout the three-day regatta, through all nine heats and semis and finals, Washington had its way, winning every time. They won when the weather was wild and windy in the Friday heats, and again when the sun poured down on the crews and the spectators that lined the course the length of the last 500-hundred meters on Sunday.

And if there were not enough firsts to talk about, Washington's win gave the Pac-12 the right to call itself the first conference to reach 500 national championships.

"I am beyond incredibly proud of our team," said senior captain Maggie Phillips. "Our goal was to pull as hard as we could on every stroke, and we did that today. Every single person on the team had a huge role in this," Phillips said, "even the girls back at home. Every day we were pushing each other and pushing the level up, every single practice. So, it was everyone's job, and everyone's win. No matter what."

The championship capped off a long season of racing for the teams that earned the right to be on the water this weekend in all three NCAA divisions. Saturday, Bates College won the Division III Team Trophy and Williams College won the varsity eight title.

Sunday, it was the DI and DII teams who were looking to walk the steps of the awards stage just up from the finish line tower in Mercer County Park. The DII races preceded the DI crews and when they were finished, Western Washington had claimed the National Championship and the University of Central Oklahoma won the varsity eight.

Coming into the weekend for the D1 events, all eyes were on Washington. UW had been beaten earlier in the year by the Cal women, but took that notch back in a sweep of the Pac-12 championship. Meanwhile, a pack of hungry and fast crews from around the country waited for the chance to knock them back to earth.

They tried; it did not happen. Washington claimed the Championship trophy and the varsity eight race. Cal finished second overall, followed by Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, and Stanford.

For the Cal Bears, this was the third consecutive second place finish in the team championship. And they were proud of the accomplishment.

"We're all very happy," said Rachel Lether, coxswain of the second varsity eight. "Being able to come in second five years in a row, being in the top two, is absolutely epic. We give a lot of credit to the University of Washington. They were super-fast today. In terms of the racing, I know it was super close. It was a huge battle the whole way down the course. Michigan really pushed us, and Washington makes us faster in every way," she said.

The Cal team

"The whole team rowed their hearts out today and I'm really proud of our girls, the way they worked their way from Thursday on," said Cal head coach Al Acosta. "We had a little trouble Friday in the varsity eight, barely squeaked by. But they came through and got it together and that's why we're here in second place."

Michigan head coach Mark Rothstein was equally pleased with his team's third place team performance, especially after a disappointing second place finish in the Big Ten Championships.

"I feel good about this," he said. "I thought we raced really well and I thought all three boat had a really good weekend. We started strong on Friday and won all three of the heats, and that set us up nice. We were able to get out of some fast semis, and then I think we raced as well as we have all year here at the championship, so that's what you want."

Junior Kalia Krichko agreed that the work in the heats was the beginning of a good weekend.

"We had a really strong start and it really set the tone to beat Cal in the heat, and it gave our team the motivation we needed coming out of the Big 10s," she said. "We came out strong and stayed strong and got all our teams in the grand final for the first time sixteen years, and then we came together as a team and took third place."

The Michigan team

In the varsity eight event, the finish order was Washington, Stanford, Cal, Texas, Michigan and Yale. Washington did what they had done the entire regatta - assumed an early lead and then just kept inching away.

The fourth place finish helped Texas to an historic fourth place team finish to a rebuilding effort started three seasons ago when Dave O'Neill took over. Texas earned a top seven finish in all three of its boats.

The Texas team

"It's great," O'Neill said. "The level of competition is pretty tight. It's so hard and tough to get here, and then once you are here and get to the night before, you're looking at the points and what you've got to do as a team. We're pretty psyched. We're pretty happy with this from where we've been for the last few years. I couldn’t be happier."

As for first place, that was all Washington - in every boat class.

"The four certainly set the table," Farooq said. "That was awesome. And then the 2V had an incredible start and they just owned that race. One of the great things about this team was they knew that it would take every person in each boat."

"It was the most incredible thing; Yaz and Josh and all of our coaches prepared us to work our butts off and that's just what we did," said junior Jess Thoennes. "We came together as a team and I have never been more happy.

"We came in this year knowing we had a new set of expectations, and Yaz said this is what we're trying to do and if you get on board, we could win; and every one of us dedicated and everyone of use committed," she said.

"Nobody ever backed down from any challenge that she posed to us and we are so lucky that we have her and our coaching staff, and we're lucky to have such amazing girls because it takes a different kind of mentality to win a championship. And that's what we have."

Final Points Tally:
1. Washington – 132
2. California – 123
3. Michigan – 112
4. Texas – 108
5. Ohio State – 106
6. Stanford – 105
7. Yale – 96
8. Brown – 91
9. Wisconsin – 86
10. Princeton – 85
11. Virginia – 74
12. Indiana – 62
13. Syracuse – 60
14. Washington State – 56
15. Iowa – 54
16. Notre Dame – 40
17. Northeastern – 38
18. UCF – 28
19. Gonzaga – 25
20. Navy – 16
21. Massachusetts – 15
22. Jacksonville – 6


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