Heading into the 2013 NCAA Division III Rowing Championships this weekend in Indianapolis, Ind., defending champion Williams might seem like the biggest obstacle, other than the choppy waters of “Windy Indy”, for the five other qualifying teams to overcome.

After all, the Ephs have hoisted the championship trophy for seven seasons in a row and already have 13 first-place finishes this season between their first and second varsity eight boats.

But to Williams’ second-year head coach Kate Maloney, success at NCAAs isn’t a given, even for a program with such a strong legacy.

“I would be lying if I said we didn’t think about [our past championships]. But every year is a new year with a new mix of girls,” Maloney said. “We have to do the work necessary to vie for a championship.”

Even though Williams is coming into Friday’s prelims ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Ephs don’t feel like heavy favorites.

“DIII rowing has really stepped up its game in terms of competitiveness,” Maloney said. “We don’t take anyone for granted. Every race day is different and we never know who will step up.”

Because of the tough and talented competition this year, Williams has put in the work to earn its spot in the championships.

“You have to earn it by taking one step in front of the other starting in September. The whole year has been a learning process, taking one step forward and a half-step back,” Maloney said. “But the team has really coalesced – built itself from top to bottom, side to side. At this point, it’s about being physically fit and race ready. The hay is in the barn and it’s about finishing.”

To reach title No. 8, the Ephs will face off against some perennially strong teams. Bates, Trinity (Conn.), Wellesley and William Smith also earned team bids, along with newcomer Washington (Md.). Ithaca and Puget Sound were selected as at-large eights.

Washington will be making its first appearance as a team at the NCAA championships and its crew is determined to leave its mark.

“Most people do not know where Washington College is and do not really know much about us,” senior captain Lauren Halla said. “When we come to a race, we are there to impress and surprise our competition.”

The Shorewomen earned at-large bids in 2008 and '09, but this year’s squad had the determination and endured adversity to finally earn a shot at the national title.

“From my freshman year, we have been building speed, however along the way, we lost a great bunch of seniors each graduating year,” senior captain Kate Fiori said. “Every one of those seniors deserved to go to NCAAs, and without them we would not be as fast as we are now.

“This year’s team has the passion and fire that I haven’t seen in the years prior. When we are given a task on or off the water, we will always try to achieve whatever is given to us, as well as go beyond it. If we are told to hit a specific split, we will do anything we can as a boat to be as fast as we can be.”

Despite their inexperience at nationals, Washington’s squad has proven it can handle itself in high-stress situations.

“We were supposed to head up to Worcester in the middle of April,” senior captain Rachel Benders said, “but due to the manhunt following the Boston Marathon bombings, we were unable to travel up there. Instead, we entered Kerr Cup in Philadelphia at the last minute. Our 2V was entered to race all DIII crews, but our 1V entered to race DI and DII crews. Both boats performed excellently -- our 2V came in second against 1V crews and our 1V won the event. Our entire team turned out amazing performances after a day of confusion and a hectic week.”

Another team with something to prove is Williams’ NESCAC rival Bates, which has finished as national runner-up the past four seasons.

The second-ranked Bobcats finished behind the Ephs at the New England Rowing Championships and just 1.558 seconds behind them at the NICR/ECAC Rowing Championships and returns a V8 filled with NCAA veterans.

The third member of the NESCAC triumvirate, No. 4 Trinity (Conn.), which finished runner-up to Williams in 2007 and ’08, has given proven it can hang with the best this season.

The Bantams came out on top of the Overall Points Trophy standings at the New England Rowing Championships in early May thanks to their strong 2V8. And in the fall, the Bantam 1V8 cranked out a 17:42.648 to win the 5,000k Head of the Charles regatta, while Williams finished third behind Liberty League champion William Smith in 18:01.384.

The competition kicks off Friday morning at Eagle Creek Park, with two heats of 2V8s followed by two heats of 1V8s. After Friday afternoon’s repechage races for each category, the teams will be set for Saturday’s petit and grand finals.