A lot is on the line for USC. This could be the first year the Trojans claim that national championship crown.

“We’ve never been ranked No. 1 for this long in a season,” said starboard senior Melanie Grindle. “Obviously we want to win the national championship and make history for our school. The opportunity to win our first national championship is really motivating and exciting.”

Grindle, who worked her way up from novice walk-on to the top-seeded varsity eight squad and a team captain position, believes this year’s group has the best dynamic to deliver USC’s first NCAA title.

“Our advantage is that we have a great spread of classes,” Grindle said. “For example, on the varsity eight, we have two freshmen, one sophomore, one junior and five seniors. It’s a mix of young, excited energy and prepared experience. The excitement from the girls who’ve never been [to a championship] before really inspires the older girls.

USC has already proven it’s one of the best in the West this season. The Trojans’ V8 won by four seconds at the Pac-12 Rowing Championships and the program claimed the Pac-12’s automatic qualifier bid ahead of No. 3 Cal and No. 10 Stanford. They also swept the San Diego Crew Classic, finishing first in the 1V8, 2V8 and V4.

But previous success doesn’t ensure a championship. In fact, Ohio State usurped the top ranking in Wednesday's latest coaches' poll.

“There are plenty of strong teams on the West coast like California and Washington. They have a number of talented athletes and a great tradition,” head coach Zenon Babraj said. “Ohio State is a big contender to be No. 1, and Virginia obviously. Princeton also has a team that’s very strong.

“Honestly in rowing, you don’t have really firm, decisive conference games, so there’s more guessing in our sport as to who will end up on top.”

“It’s great to have a No. 1 seed going in, but once you hit the water, that’s gone in two seconds,” Grindle said. “We’re looking forward to racing against the top teams in the country that we haven’t met yet.”

The East Coast boasts programs with strong legacies, like seven-time champion Brown, which claimed the title in 2011, and 2010 and 2012 winner Virginia.

Despite being the defending champion, this year’s Cavalier squad is a completely different beast.

“We graduated 19 people from last year’s team,” head coach Kevin Sauer said, “so about 40 percent of our team is new between novice, freshmen and transfers. This team is just as driven, but it has a different personality.”

The young Cav crew has experienced some great highs, including winning its sixth consecutive ACC title and taking first ahead of top-ranked Ohio State’s V8 at the Clemson Invitational, along with some unexpected lows.

“Illness and injury have really depleted the ranks this season,” Sauer said. “We lost some important people -- a lot more than normal. But the team’s shown resiliency and that’s been their defining trait and what’s made them a special team.”

Virginia’s 1V8 boat has lost only to USC and Cal this year at the San Diego Crew Classic on April 7.

Including Virginia and USC, 22 teams from 15 states will descend upon Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis this weekend. This year’s expanded field has allowed Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Marist, Navy and Gonzaga to earn their first automatic qualifying bids to the championships.

Four heats each of V4s, 1V8s and 2V8s will race Friday morning, with repechages that afternoon. Semifinals will be held Saturday morning then finals, petite finals and grand finals will take place on Sunday.