GOLD RIVER, Calif. — Winning both the four and eight grand finals for the first time in three years, Western Washington University captured its seventh consecutive team title at the 10th annual NCAA Division II National Championships held on Lake Natoma at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center.
The Vikings entered the competition ranked No.1 nationally in the USRowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association NCAA II Poll, receiving every first-place vote throughout the season. Their string of seven national team titles is unprecedented in any rowing division since the NCAA began a championship in 1997.
“I can’t describe it, it just feels so good,” Western coach John Fuchs said. “They worked so hard this year, it was pretty flawless.
“The prep work, the cross-training from the first practice in the fall, it just worked. We changed a lot of things and I’m really happy with everything that we did. It all worked out better than I expected. The combination of all those things made the team better.”
Both Western’s four and eight shells were victorious by wide margins in posting grand final victories on Sunday. After performing that feat the first four years of their string, the Vikings were second in the fours in 2009 and runner-up in the eights last year.
Western has now won 25 of 28 races, including qualifying heats, at nationals during its championship reign.
The Vikings finished with a winning total of 20 points, followed by Mercyhurst with 13, Humboldt State’s 12 and Nova Southeastern grabbed five.
Western won by more than two boat lengths in the eights competition, completing the 2,000-meter course in 6:50.46. Defending champion Mercyhurst was second in 6:58.25, followed by Humboldt State (7:01.87) and Nova Southeastern (7:13.65).
It was the fourth team title for two members of the varsity eight, team captain and stroke Casey Mapes and coxswain Samantha Oberholzer.
“We had an awesome start,” Mapes said. “Once we got out (in the lead), we knew we could hold on because this year we changed our workouts and did more power. In the past, we’ve come from behind. This year, we’re getting out a little harder at the start and just flashing through it.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out – better team, better crew, it’s just been a phenomenal year. Sam and I have both gotten four now, and I’m just so lucky to be a part of this.”
The Vikings had a boat length lead after the first 500 meters, opening with a split of 1:38.91 and were ahead by a boat length at the 1,000-meter mark.
Seated in Western’s eight besides Oberholzer and Mapes were 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.
“Our warmup was so calm, you could tell that everyone was just ready,” said Oberholzer, who along with Carlson was named to the CRCA All-America team. “We just blasted out of our start and everything went according to plan. It felt so great. I think it was the best race we’ve ever had.”
“It was just phenomenal. From start to finish, it was the best race that I’ve ever been a part of. After last year, we worked so hard this year to get that win. From the first stroke it was just so on, we were all on. I knew that we would win after the first stroke.”
The Vikings’ four also led from start to finish. That shell won in 7:50.72, more than a boat length of open water ahead of runner-up Humboldt State (7:56.16). Mercyhurst was third in 8:03.91.
Seated in Western’s four were coxswain Kelsey McFarland, stroke Kelsey Baker, No. 3 Mariana Cains, No. 2 Alyssa Dewey, and bow Lauren Fleming.
Western’s alternates were Hannah Gallagher and Nolan Winger. Gallagher competed last year at nationals in the varsity four and this was Winger’s third year as an alternate.
Besides being the fourth trip to nationals for Mapes and Oberholzer, it was 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 were all making their first national appearances for the Vikings.
Western’s top eight won seven of nine races this season. The two losses, both by close margins, were to two Division I schools, Gonzaga and Washington. The Vikings’ four was victorious in six of nine races, all three losses being to Division I schools.
Western’s four and eight shells earned grand final berths with easy victories in their respective qualifying heats on Friday.
Earlier this season, Western took the team title at the Northwest Collegiate Rowing Conference Championships and all four if its entries won grand finals at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta.
Carlson, Oberholzer and Mapes were first-team WIRA all-stars, with McFarland and Miranda Steward receiving second-team recognition. Carlson also was a NCRC all-star.
Besides winning the last seven national titles, Western placed third in 2004 after finishing second in 2002 and 2003.
The record for consecutive women’s national titles in any Division II sport is 10. Western is now tied for fourth. The Vikings also are tied for the longest Division II men’s and women’s active string of national titles with Drury, which has won seven consecutive in men’s swimming and diving.