INDIANAPOLIS, IN – With just three seconds separating the top three shells, Western Washington University kept its team title hopes alive as its varsity eight placed second in a repechage heat Saturday and advanced to Sunday’s grand finals at the 12th annual NCAA Division II Women’s Rowing National Championships being held at the Eagle Creek Reservoir.
The Vikings’ eight was timed in 7:44.0 over the 2,000-meter course, just one second behind winner UC San Diego, clocked in 7:43.0. Finishing just over two seconds behind WWU was Central Oklahoma in 7:45.4, with Mercyhurst PA fourth in 8:05.6.
“They had a much better start (than Friday) and did what they had to do,” said WWU head coach John Fuchs (15th year). “Both crews are in the grand finals, and that’s the main thing no matter what route they took.”
“The conditions were rough. The weather here has been just terrible.”
The Vikings and UC San Diego advance to Sunday’s grand final (6:10 a.m. PT) along with Friday’s qualifying heat winners, Barry FL and Nova Southeastern FL.
WWU’s varsity four had already secured a spot in the grand finals with a dominating five boat length qualifying heat victory Friday. On Sunday (5:50 a.m. PT), the Vikings face Nova Southeastern, the other heat winner, and Barry, which easily bested Mercyhurst in a repechage heat Saturday.
Seated in WWU’s eight were coxswain Maeghan Callegari (So., Kirkland/Lake Washington), stroke Stephanie Bluhm (Sr., Auburn/Auburn Mountainview), No.7 Olivia Rowland (Jr., Seattle/Holy Names), No.6 Lauren Ramstead ((So., Everson/Nooksack Valley/Creighton), No.5 Olivia Gangmark-Strickland (Fr., Bainbridge), No.4 Maddy Hillier (Sr., Sedro-Woolley (Sedro-Woolley/Skagit Valley CC), No.3 Regan Wessman (Jr., Kirkland/Lake Washington), No.2 Claire Marine (Jr., Enumclaw/Green River), and bow Christine Henie (Jr., Chugiak, AK).
Saturday’s eight repechage heat got off to a rough beginning as UC San Diego was late to the starting line and the boats were called back after the first start. UC San Diego got off the line first and led after 500 meters, but from there on it was a three-team battle between the Tritons, WWU and Central Oklahoma.
WWU entered the competition ranked No.2 in the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Poll with Barry No.1 and Nova Southeastern No.3. Nova Southeastern advanced both its four and eight to the grand finals in Friday’s qualifying heats and will be the most rested squad vying for the national team title.
Barry, Nova Southeastern and WWU will be the only schools with an opportunity to win the team championship as UC San Diego received only an at-large berth in the eight competition.
“We’re excited for tomorrow, it’s going to be a flat out race,” Fuchs said. “We certainly respect the Florida schools and are aware of their speed, but we just have to stay with our race plan and focus on what we have to do.”
Seated in the Vikings’ four will be coxswain Kate Nelson (So., Moscow, ID), stroke Audra Massey (Jr., Albuquerque, NM), No.3 Catrina Cuadra (Jr., Lake Stevens), No.2 Yvette Kelp (Sr., Lakewood/Gonzaga) and bow Sara Crowell (So., Bainbridge Island/Bainbridge).
The Vikings are representing the West Region for the 10th straight year and for the 11th time in 12 seasons (at-large entry in 2003). Last year, they placed second in the team standings after winning seven straight national titles from 2005 to 2011, a record for all NCAA rowing divisions.
At nationals in 2012, WWU placed second in the eights and third in the fours. The Vikings have won the four and eight titles for six of the last eight years, placing second in the eight grand final in 2010 and being runner-up in the four grand final in 2009.
At nationals, 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.
Overall, this is the 13th consecutive trip to nationals for WWU. The Vikings competed in the NCAA championship for all divisions in 2001, the varsity eight finishing sixth in its qualifying, repechage and third final races. In 2002, each school raced two eights at nationals.