Oklahoma earns first NCAA tournament berth with USA Conference win
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. -- Two weeks after capturing its first Big 12 title, Oklahoma backed it up with a win in the Conference USA Championship to secure the program's first NCAA championship berth.
The Sooners, in their fifth season as a varsity program, won their first C-USA title with wins in three races and second-place finishes in the other two events. OU earned a total of 63 points, ahead of Tennessee's 57 and Texas' 56.
"I am so incredibly proud of this team and all that we've achieved this year," OU head coach Leeanne Crain said. "It will be an honor to represent the Big 12 and Conference USA at the NCAA championship later this month."
Crain was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year, while senior captain Nikki Furmanek earned Rower of the Year honors for the second season in a row. Freshman Taylor Gillespie was named the Newcomer of the Year. Both Crain and Furmanek also earned Big 12 Coach and Rower of the Year accolades.
Furmanek and fellow seniors Meghan Farrell, Ashley LaFollette and Rebecca Staff were named to the Conference USA All-Conference Team.
The Sooners won conference titles in the second Varsity 8, Varsity 4 and open 4 with runner-up finishes in the Varsity 8 and novice 8 . Before this season, OU had only claimed one individual boat conference title in the previous three C-USA championships.
With five Big 12 schools sponsoring rowing, the conference is one team shy of an automatic qualifier into the NCAA championship. Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia also compete in the 11-team Conference USA with Alabama, Old Dominion, SMU, Tennessee, Tulsa and UCF. The winner of the C-USA Championship earns an automatic bid to the NCAA championship.
"We are grateful to Conference USA for hosting this championship," Crain said. "Their sponsorship and inclusion of the Big 12 and SEC schools has allowed us the opportunity to advance and we appreciate all that they've done to make that dream a reality for us."
With the Conference USA title, the Sooners earn their first appearance in the NCAA championship. OU will join a 22-team field in Indianapolis on May 31-June 2.