Shannon Tyler, veteran rower on the Washington State University women’s crew team, sensed it at the start of Saturday morning’s Fawley Cup race at Long Lake.
“I saw a fire in the boat” said Tyler, a senior and only remaining member of last year’s women’s-varsity-eights-with-coxswain team. “I don’t think there was any doubt. There was no option of not coming across the line first.”
Indeed. The Cougars beat the host team Gonzaga University varsity in the first meet of the season, never trailing in the 2,000-meter race. When they crossed the finish line - winning by a margin of two boat lengths, WSU reclaimed the title that was taken away last year for the first time in 12 seasons.
Saturday’s winning time was 6 minutes, 47.2 seconds to Gonzaga’s 7:00.3. The WSU junior varsity boat finished in 7:22.1. The win qualified both varsity boats into the May 2 opening-day regatta in Seattle. The Bulldogs qualified by beating the Cougars JV boat.
“I don’t think it was disappointing,” Gonzaga coach Susie Lueck said. “We beat the JV and that was our goal. That was the primary goal, to qualify for opening day. We went out and had a solid race - and we have room for improvement.”
Washington State coach Tammy Crawford, meanwhile, had to have liked what she saw from the shoreline on this brisk but sunny Saturday.
“When we came off the water here last year - I don’t think it had much to do with Gonzaga - I think we were dissatisfied with our own race. To summarize our season last year, we had some darn awesome practices. And on race day, for whatever reason, I think there were some uncertainties.”
A stroke of excellence
Chris Grothkopp, a sturdy 6-foot-7, 225-pound third-year rower from Gonzaga, recently caught the attention of the national and Olympic team coaches.
At a national team testing camp earlier this month in Seattle, the senior clocked a 5:59.6 time in the 2,000-meter ergometer test. Not only did he knock 9 seconds off his previous best, but it also put him in an elite group of under-6-minute athletes.
Grothkopp also took 21 seconds off his 6,000-meter time, working the ergometer in 19:31.1.
“I’d say right now he’s probably caught their eye and he’s probably on the main list,” Gonzaga coach Dan Gehn said.
Last summer, Grothkopp of Bellevue was not invited to any of the elite training camps. But this summer, he said he’s already cancelled his summer plans in Seattle and is hopeful he’ll be training in Elkhart, Ind., home of the national rowing “B” team.
“I got word that he (Olympic coach Mike Teti) liked what he saw,” Grothkopp said. “Last year at this time, it was just an idea. But now it’s coming closer to a reality.”
Until then, Grothkopp, a marketing major, will continue to anchor the Bulldogs’ men’s-varsity-eights-with-coxswain boat from the No. 5 seat. Saturday, the Bulldogs defeated WSU 6:15.5 to 6:31.0. Men’s crew is a club sport at WSU.
The luckiest guy on the lake
Sophomore Nathan Palmer of Portland has the unusual job of guiding GU’s women’s varsity-eight boat from the coxswain seat.
Palmer, a former rower, got the job in January when the women were without a coxswain.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world out here,” said Palmer, whose team lost to WSU in Saturday’s second race. “We definitely have potential. We just have to make sure we maintain a good rhythm throughout the races. We can take ‘em.”
The two teams will meet again in the Pacific-10 championship at Sacramento, Calif., in May.
Both Gonzaga and Washington State will compete in next weekend’s San Diego Crew Classic, but aren’t in the same cup races. The event is one of the biggest of the spring season and features top-ranked schools nationwide.
Gonzaga men’s-junior-varsity-eights-with-coxswain team also finds itself in a unique situation. The coxswain in freshman Paul Williams and the rower in the eight seat is junior Mark Williams. Mark fills all the roles of a big brother, standing 6-1 to Paul’s 5-5-3/4.
“Coach says we can always carry on a conversation without even talking because we know what the other one is thinking,” said Mark, who faces Paul in the boat.
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