GOLD RIVER, Calif. – Western Washington’s eight and four shells dominated their qualifying heats Friday, advancing to Sunday’s grand finals at the 10th annual NCAA Division II Women’s Rowing National Championships being held on Lake Natoma at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center.
The Vikings are ranked No. 1 nationally in the USRowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association NCAA II Poll, having received every first-place vote all season long. They have won the last six national team titles, a feat not duplicated in any division since the NCAA began a rowing championship in 1997.
Western posted the division’s best times Friday in both its qualifying runs, winning the eight by two boat lengths and the four by one.
“It was a heat and you never know what other people are doing, but we had two really solid runs, so I’m pretty happy with that and the fact we don’t have to row tomorrow,” said Western coach John Fuchs.
“You can’t win the championship on the first day and you can’t lose it either. The whole focal point of today was to not row on Saturday. Now, we can spend time tomorrow training instead of racing.”
Western’s eight won the first heat, posting a time of 6:50.74 over the 2,000-meter course. That was nearly 10 seconds better than the second-best clocking in either heat. Humboldt State was second in 7:00.54 and Nova Southeastern third in 7:09.35.
Mercyhurst, the defending eight national champion, earned a grand final berth as it took heat two in 7:02.87. Seattle Pacific placed second in 7:08.69 and Barry was third in 7:10.34.
The Vikings won their four heat in 7:38.70, with Humboldt State second in 7:43.03. Mercyhurst reached the grand final by taking the second heat in 7:48.91, Nova Southeastern finishing second in 7:59.41.
“It’s just so hard to tell (about the competition),” Fuchs said. “I really can’t go off the times. Mercyhurst obviously wasn’t pushed, but you just don’t know if the other two crews let them go. They obviously had the same thought process that we did, which was not to row tomorrow. I think it’s going to be a lot closer on Sunday. We know what everybody is capable of, you just don’t see it the first day.”
Barry, Humboldt State, Seattle Pacific, and Nova Southeastern will meet in the eight repechage heat Saturday to determine the final two berths in Sunday’s grand final. In Saturday’s four repechage heat, Humboldt State and Nova Southeastern vie for the final berth in Sunday’s grand final.
On Sunday, 12 points will be awarded to the first-place eight, nine for second, six for third and three for fourth. The victorious four gets eight points, with six points awarded for second, four for third and two for fourth.
Western is one of four schools competing for the team championship – each school being required to row an eight and a four. The others are Humboldt State, Mercyhurst and Nova Southeastern. Barry and Seattle Pacific received at-large berths in the eight competition, but are not eligible for the team title.
During their championship reign, the Vikings have now won 24 of 27 races at nationals. The only setbacks were in 2010 when the eight placed second in its final and in 2009 when the four placed third in its qualifying heat and second in its final.
Seated in Western’s varsity eight are coxswain Samantha Oberholzer, stroke and team captain Casey Mapes, No. 7 Carson MacPherson-Krutsky, No. 6 Jean Piette, No. 5 Siri Carlson, No. 4 Megan Northey, No. 3 Stephanie Bluhm, No .2 Katie Woolsey and bow Kate Berni.
This season, the Vikings’ top eight has won six of eight races. The two losses, both by close margins, were to two NCAA I schools, Gonzaga and the University of Washington junior varsity.
Western’s varsity four has won five of eight races, all the losses being to NCAA I schools.
Seated in the four are coxswain Kelsey McFarland, stroke Kelsey Baker, No. 3 Mariana Cains, No. 2 Alyssa Dewey, and bow Lauren Fleming. The alternates are Hannah Gallagher and Nolan Winger. Gallagher competed last year at nationals in the varsity four and this is Winger’s third year as an alternate.
It is the fourth trip to nationals for Mapes and Oberholzer, the third for Berni, Carlson, McFarland, MacPherson-Krutsky, Northey, Piette, Winger and Woolsey; and the second for Baker, Bluhm and Gallagher. Cains, Dewey and Fleming are making their first national appearances for the Vikings.
Carlson and Oberholzer were both named CRCA All-Americans earlier this week. They also were first-team Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association all-stars along with Mapes. McFarland and Miranda Steward received second-team recognition. Carlson also was a Northwest Collegiate Rowing Conference all-star.
During the regular season, Western took the team title at the NCRC Championships and all four if its entries won grand finals at the WIRA Championship Regatta. At the Opening Day Regatta, the varsity eight placed second behind a Washington JV eight and the varsity four was fourth.