Western wins first NCAA II National Championship
May 29, 2005
RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. - After four years of knocking, the door to a national title finally opened for Western Washington University at the NCAA Women's Rowing National Championships that concluded Sunday at the CSU Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma.
The Vikings won the school's first NCAA II national crown in any sport and just the second overall. Western's softball team took a NAIA National Championship in 1998.
"It doesn't get any better than this," said Western coach John Fuchs, whose charges placed third at nationals last year after coming within 600 meters of victory, and second the two previous seasons. "It was pretty emotional for everybody, a lot of tears. I feel about three inches taller. It's just awesome.
"After being a bridesmaid for so long, I feel like Phil Mickelson did last year at The Masters ... to finally win this thing. Four years of work came down to this."
The Vikings were victorious in both the fours and eights grand finals, finishing with a perfect score of 20. Defending national champion Mercyhurst placed second with 12 points, followed by Nova Southeastern 11 and Florida Tech 7.
Western's eight, ranked No.1 in the USRowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association NCAA II Poll nearly the entire season, held off Nova Southeastern, winning by 1-1/2 lengths. The Vikings completed the 2,000-meter course in 6:48.72. Nova Southeastern was clocked in 6:55.91, followed by Mercyhurst (6:59.92) and Barry (7:07.35).
Leading by a boat length with 1,000 meters to go, Western was briefly challenged by Nova Southeastern before pulling away at the end.
"We knew that eventually someone was going to move on us if we had the lead," said Fuchs. "So, we were prepared for that. We were prepared to give up a little bit, and then we just countered it and slowly walked away at the finish."
Seated in the Vikings' eight were coxswain Krissy Whaley (Sr., Woodinville), stroke Julia Gamache (Jr., Seattle/Blanchet), No.7 Staci Reynolds (Fr., Vancouver/Columbia River), No.6 Lindsay Mann-King (So., Colville), No.5 Kailyn McGrath (Jr., Fillmore, CA/Villanova Prep), No.4 Metta Gilbert (Fr., Helena, MT), No.3 Gail Lumsden (Sr., Everett/Mariner), No.2 Amelia Whitcomb (Fr., Spokane/Ferris) and bow Stephanie Parker (So., Marysville, WA/Marysville-Pilchuck/SPU).
"We just stuck to our race plan," said Gamache, a two-time CRCA All-American. "Nova (Southeastern) walked up to us in the middle of it, but we just stuck with it because we knew if it came down to the wire that we have an amazing sprint and we're going to take it.
"We didn't change anything for anyone else. We didn't let anyone else change our plan."
"We broke down a wall that we had been working on all year," added Mann-King, who also received All-America recognition. "We came here prepared and did everything that we had planned to do ... It was amazing.
"The feeling in the boat was calm confidence and we really pulled that off and stayed within our race plan and accomplished everything that we had planned on. Our motto is `Grace under Pressure,' and that pretty much explains it."
Less than an hour earlier, Western's four won by a huge margin of nearly six boat lengths. The Vikings' winning time was 7:46.82, followed by Mercyhurst (8:07.78) and Florida Tech (8:09.34).
Western got off to a fast start and led by two lengths after the first 500 with a split time of 1:50.74 and by three lengths at the midway point.
"They just had a really great start," Fuchs said. "I think they took a length within the first 15 strokes. They clearly dominated, it was amazing."
Seated in the Vikings' four were coxswain Elisabeth Johnson (Jr., Seattle/Franklin), stroke Courtney Moeller (Sr., Renton/Liberty), No.3 Samantha Marikis (Fr., Republic), No.2 Tanya Kaufman (Fr., San Anselmo, CA/Sir Francis Drake) and bow Jordon Tobler (Fr., Langley/South Whidbey).
"We had a boat full of freshmen, who just pulled their hearts out," said Moeller. "We knew that we had it in us and we knew that we could do it ... The last few strokes were the hardest I've pulled in my life."
Both Viking shells had impressive qualifying heat victories Friday.
This was the third national appearance for three of Western's rowers - Gamache, Lumsden, and McGrath. It is also the third trip for Whaley, who was the four coxswain the last two years. Making their second appearances are Mann-King and Parker in the eight, and Moeller in the four.
Four Western rowers are graduating - Lumsden, McGrath, Moeller and Whaley.
Overall, it was the fifth consecutive trip to nationals for Western. 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, rather than an eight and a four.
"It's a real strong testament to the work everyone did during the fall and winter," Fuchs said. "That's what paid off. ... and (assistant coach) Karla (Landis). She taught five of those girls how to row, they were true novices. It was a great effort by everybody. And that's what it takes to win at this level."
Last year, Western's eight was within 600 meters of victory and a team national title when Gamache caught a crab, a rowing term for an oar getting stuck in the water on the recovery portion of a stroke. The Viking boat had to come to a complete stop before getting underway again.
"This time when we crossed the finish line, we were still crying, but it was so different," Gamache said.
At the NCAA II West Regional on May 14, Western won both the eight and four races. The Vikings' eight was victorious for the second straight year, and for the third time in four years. Western's four won for the first time.
Two weeks earlier at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships, both shells placed fourth in grand finals, the eight after edging No.1 seed San Diego State in its qualifying heat. The eight also was victorious at the Northwest Collegiate Rowing Conference Championships.
"I felt like toward the end of the season they just got sharper and sharper," said Fuchs. "The eight's chemistry is fantastic and that is everything ... That's what makes rowing so great is when you've got nine people who absolutely trust each other. It takes the whole boat to another level.
"And the four jelled at just the right time. They came together at WIRAs and just got faster and faster. There were no weak links anywhere on the team we brought down here, and that's the result we got for that."
NCAA Division II National Women's Rowing Championships
Sunday's ResultsWWU LINEUPS:
Varsity 8 - Coxswain Krissy Whaley (Sr., Woodinville), stroke Julia Gamache (Jr., Seattle/Blanchet), No.7 Staci Reynolds (Fr., Vancouver/Columbia River), No.6 Lindsay Mann-King (So., Colville), No.5 Kailyn McGrath (Jr., Fillmore, CA/Villanova Prep), No.4 Metta Gilbert (Fr., Helena, MT), No.3 Gail Lumsden (Sr., Everett/Mariner), No.2 Amelia Whitcomb (Fr., Spokane/Ferris), bow Stephanie Parker (So., Marysville, WA/Marysville-Pilchuck/SPU)
Varsity 4 - Coxswain Elisabeth Johnson (Jr., Seattle/Franklin), stroke Courtney Moeller (Sr., Renton/Liberty), No.3 Samantha Marikis (Fr., Republic), No.2 Tanya Kaufman (Fr., San Anselmo, CA/Sir Francis Drake), bow Jordon Tobler (Fr., Langley/South Whidbey)
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