INDIANAPOLIS -- A chance of a lifetime was fulfilled on Sunday morning as Humboldt State, for the second time in three years, claimed the NCAA Division II national championship at Eagle Creek Park.
In a grand final predicted to be a tight three-team field, the Lumberjacks won the championship by a single point, 16-15, against defending champion Nova Southeastern and two points better than third-place West region rival Western Washington.
"At the beginning of the year, I didn't think this was the year this was going to happen. We overcame some adversity, but we started to focus and just trained extremely hard," HSU head coach Robin Meiggs said. "Everyone continued to point toward the goal of getting back to nationals, but to win the national championship is just unbelievable!"It took the entire team pushing each other and a lot of hard work by my staff -- assistant coach Patrick Hyland and student-assistants Ashley Donnell and Molly Fisher -- and all the time everyone put in. This is just the culmination of that hard work. Nova Southeastern inspired me from what they did last year [by winning the national championship]. I also want to shout out to our dedicated fans at home, who were watching online and were just as excited as we were."
The DII Rowing championship gives the HSU athletics department its fifth national title. The crew team's second championship ties it with the Jacks' softball team's two titles (1999 and 2008), while the 1980 men's cross country squad completes the five crowns.
After the four boat won its Saturday repechage race, the Jacks would have a three-way battle for the team title in the Sunday grand finals against Nova Southeastern and Western Washington. In the tight battle, the title came down to the final 500 meters of the eight race.
"We knew when we went out our first goal was to follow the race plan. We talked on what split times we wanted to hit," Meiggs said. "When they started, it took the ladies 10 more strokes to settle down."
The Jacks' eight -- coxswain Katrina Rehrer, Jamie Larrabee, Ripley McChesney, Maggie Wilhelm, Kayley Weber, Maddy Guillaume, Samatha Morford, Kate Dedrick and Mariah Smither -- started the race in third place trailing leader Western Washington and slightly behind Nova Southeastern in second.
Within the first 750 meters, HSU pulled ahead of Nova Southeastern into second place. The Jacks moved to within a two-seat margin of Western Washington by the 1,000-meter halfway point.
"Where the team started moving up, it is a testament to them and their hard work," Meiggs said. "In the first 1,000 meters, we started moving in front of Nova and then the goal was to reel Western Washington in."
HSU reeled in Western Washington as it pulled even with its regional foe by the 1,250-meter mark into the race and edged ahead by a one-seat difference upon hitting 1,500 meters.
The Jacks continued their late-race charge to increase their new-found lead to four seats with 350 meters to go. HSU kept its push through the final line to win by eight seats, almost a full boat length, and two seconds better than Nova Southeastern, 7:13.405 to 7:15.532.
"It came down to the final 500 meters. They did an exceptional job from start to finish," Meiggs said.
The Nova Southeastern boat overtook Western Washington by the slim .062 margin at the finish line for second place, which was key for HSU winning the team title due to the four boat grand finals result.
In the four grand finals, Western Washington's favored four boat took the lead midway into the race and never gave it. Western Washington went on to take the victory against Nova Southeastern by a little more than two seconds, 7:59.304 to 8:01.597, while HSU was third (8:23.496).
"We made it to the area really early and tensions were a little high [with the four boat team]," Meiggs said. "We knew the four race would be tough with how Western Washington has been all season long."
From the start, Nova Southeastern took the lead in the first 100 meters with HSU in third and kept the lead of almost a full length for the first 500 meters of the race. Western Washington cut into the difference, before it stroked into the lead within the final 650 meters and held on for the victory.
The Lumberjacks' four boat -- coxswain Krista Smith, Katie Lamke, Christina Bruner, Sarah Johnson and Marina Hagen -- posted a three-second faster time than its winning Saturday repechage time, but were unable to challenge the other two boats in the race's stretch drive.
"With Cat Trimingham out of the lineup due to her injury, Sarah Johnson did a great job for them this weekend," Meiggs said. "After the race, all of the ladies said they could not have put more of themselves in the race and that is all you can ever ask."