GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Western Washington won all three of its qualifying heats Saturday and all four of its shells will race in grand finals Sunday at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta being held at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma.

The course is the same one where the NCAA national championships will be held May 27-29.

The Vikings, ranked No.1 in the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association NCAA Division II Poll all season, won heats in the varsity four and varsity eight races for Division II, Division III and club entries as well as the novice four. Their times in each race were the fastest of the two qualifying heats in which the top-3 finishers advance to grand finals.

“I’m ecstatic, especially considering the conditions,” Western coach John Fuchs said, whose Vikings have won the last six national titles. “There was a very strong side wind. But our goal was to get out front and get to the finals and we accomplished that.”

“With conditions like that, lining up for the start can be difficult, but all of our coxswains did an excellent job. I was especially proud of the novice four because those rowers haven’t had a lot of experience with that.”

Western’s varsity eight had a winning time of 7:10.5 over the 2,000-meter course, having open water against second-place Seattle Pacific (7:15.6). Humboldt State was third (7:22.7) in the seven-boat race.

Puget Sound won the other qualifying heat in 7:17.8 with Lewis & Clark second (7:19.8) and Orange Coast third (7:22.0). 

The Vikings’ varsity four won in 7:43.9, three and one-half boat lengths in front of runner-up Humboldt State (7:56.2). UC Irvine was third (8:15.7) in the six-school run.

Sunday’s varsity four grand final, which begins at 8 a.m., also includes Pacific Lutheran (8:01.1), Seattle Pacific (8:04.6) and Seattle U. (8:07.3), the top-3 finishers in the other qualifying heat.

Western’s novice four posted a four-length victory with a winning time of 8:23.0. That was over 17 seconds ahead of second-place UC Berkeley (8:40.8) in the six-boat race. UC San Diego was third (8:47.3).

The novice four grand final takes place at 8:40 a.m. The top three advancing from the other heat were Seattle U. (8:28.4), Humboldt State (8:34.3) and San Diego State (8:37.2).

No qualifying heat was necessary in the junior varsity eight as there were just five entries. The Vikings will face Willamette, Humboldt State, UC Santa Barbara and Mills in a grand final at 10:40 a.m.

Western did not compete at WIRA last year after the varsity four and varsity eight both won gold medals with grand final victories in 2009.