Western Washington returns to grand finals race, faces defending champion
INDIANAPOLIS -- Western Washington will be in the mix for a national team title Sunday as its eight qualified for a grand final by finishing among the top two in a repechage heat Saturday at the 13th annual NCAA Division II National Women's Rowing Championships being held at the Eagle Creek Reservoir.
The Vikings, who have competed in every DII national meet since it began in 2002, have never had an eight or four not reach a grand final. They have won seven national titles during that span and never placed lower than third.
WWU's eight, which led by over a boat length halfway through Saturday's 2,000-meter race, was nipped by Barry at the finish. Just one second separated the two shells, Barry being timed in 7:19.14 and WWU in 7:19.24.
"The focus was on getting first or second, that was the main thing," WWU head coach John Fuchs said, who is completing his 16th season. That's all that we were trying to do, and so we're in."
Seated in WWU's eight, which had the second fastest time in Friday's two qualifying heats, were coxswain Maeghan Callegari, stroke Catrina Cuadra, No.7 Regan Wessman, No.6 Lauren Ramstead, No.5 Megan Marler, No.4 Olivia Rowland, No.3 Christine Henie, No.2 Emily Bartlett, and bow Emily Little.
The Vikings and Barry advance to Sunday's grand final along with Friday's qualifying heat winners, Humboldt State and Nova Southeastern. Barry is not eligible for the team title as it earned an at-large berth for its eight only.
"All four of those crews are really close," Fuchs said. "That's just the way it is. Everybody is fast. But I like our chances. It's going to come down to whoever puts out the best performance."
WWU's four had already secured a spot in a grand final with a dominating qualifying heat victory Friday. On at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, the Vikings face Nova Southeastern, the other heat winner, and Humboldt State, which bested Mercyhurst in a repechage heat Saturday.
Seated in the Vikings' four will be coxswain Kate Nelson (Jr., Moscow, ID), stroke Audra Massey (Jr., Albuquerque, NM), No.3 Jenny Chang (Fr., Sammamish/Int. School of Beijing), No.2 Olivia Gangmark-Strickland (So., Bainbridge Island), and bow Katya Hewitt (So., Bellingham).
WWU's four has not lost to a Division II school this season. The Vikings won their national qualifying heat by over a minute.
"I like the fours chances a lot," said Fuchs. "They're really a good crew and I think that they've got a lot of momentum on their side."
WWU entered the national championships ranked No.3 in the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association/USRowing DII Poll with Nova Southeastern No.1 and Humboldt State No.3.
The Vikings are looking to snap a two-year podium absence after winning seven straight national team titles from 2005 to 2011, a record for all NCAA rowing divisions. Nova Southeastern is the defending champion and Humboldt State won in 2012.
WWU finished third last year after being second in 2012.
Nova Southeastern will be the most rested crew with both its eight and four winning qualifying heats Friday and not having to race Saturday. WWU's eight had a repechage heat Saturday as did Humboldt State's four.
"I don't think it really factors in," Fuchs said. "Our fitness is very good and we knew that we might have to go three events. Racing every day is part of the season. Everybody stays in shape. It's really not an issue."
On Sunday, participants receive 12 points for the first-place eight, nine for second, six for third and three for fourth. The victorious four gets eight points, with six points awarded for second, four for third and two for fourth.
WWU's four won and the eight placed second at the 2014 Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta in April.
This is the third straight year that WWU's Callegari, Henie, Wessman and Rowland have been to nationals. They were in the varsity four in 2012. Henie is the team captain and Callegari the assistant captain.
It is the second trip to nationals for Cuadra, Gangmark-Strickland, Massey, Nelson and Ramstead, and the first for Bartlett, Chang, Hewitt, Little, Marler and Still.