The NCAA rowing championships are becoming just part of the yearly routine for the rowers at Gonzaga and Washington State.
Both schools are represented in the 22-team field – the fifth time in six years for the Cougars, the second in three for the Bulldogs – which will compete for three days beginning today to determine a champion.
The familiar event does not hold many unforeseen pitfalls for either team, since both loaded up on NCAA qualifiers during grueling schedules. The ninth-ranked Cougars have competed against eight of the 21 schools they’ll face this weekend, defeating four including the Bulldogs.
GU, one of 11 automatic qualifiers thanks to its second West Coast Conference championship, is in the midst of perhaps its best season in school history. The young team has adopted a mantra of “be limitless” and beat or nearly beat teams like No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 16 UCLA and No. 20 Minnesota in national invitational.
“When we raced them then we weren’t really holding ourselves to any limits and I think doing that then really helps with being able to do that now, mentally,” said GU junior Kara Soucek.
Both schools even competed in their conference championships at the same Lake Natoma course where they will row this weekend.
So, with so many points of reference and all that familiarity, how can GU outperform its No. 17 seed or how can the No. 9 Cougars finish in the top-5 in a sport in which the boat goes as fast as the slowest rower, not the speediest?
The Cougars hope that the time spent out of the boat during their winter conditioning will pay off. WSU spent more time than in previous years on indoor rowing machines and the Cougars noticed the dividends when they returned to the water.
“At the beginning of the year when we were finally able to see how the extra training was paying off, it was one of those big things where all of a sudden you get to see where you’re at,” said senior Sarah Wu.
WSU coach Jane LaRiviere (apt French translation: “The River”) also hopes that her team’s season-long consistency will put them in position to take advantage of any higher-ranked teams that stumble. The varsity boats are dominated by upperclassmen, particularly members of a strong junior class that is laying the groundwork for what could be an even better finish next season.
“We haven’t had many bad races,” LaRiviere said. “Obviously I have high expectations but I think it’s really great that our seniors and juniors can bring it every time we line up. There’re way fewer ups and downs when you have a lot of upperclassmen.”
Gonzaga coach Glenn Putyrae doesn’t expect too much movement amongst the teams. He’s just glad that his team is back in the NCAA championships after a one-year hiatus.
“The only thing we can do now is rest,” Putyrae said. “At this point the hay’s in the barn, everything’s been done. All they can do at this point is fuel themselves, eat right, sleep as much as they can and not do anything that would take energy from what they want to be putting into the races.”
The Bulldogs varsity eight will be in the day’s first Division I race, scheduled to start at 9:10 a.m. WSU’s varsity eight will be in the third heat, which will begin at 9:30 a.m.
WSU rowers earn honors
Washington State juniors Jordan Watson (first team) and Nicole Hare (second team) earned Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA) Region 5 honors, the organization announced. Watson became the 15th Cougar to receive first team honors and Hare the 11th rower named to the second team.
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