No. 2 Stanford women’s rowing and Stanford men’s rowing begin their respective national championship regattas today, as the women are set to row at the Indianapolis Rowing Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the men will take the water at Lake Mercer in West Windsor, New Jersey.
The women seek to win their second NCAA title in program history. The Card won the program’s first team and varsity eight titles in 2009, edging out Virginia by 0.37 of a second in the varsity eight Grand Final to claim both titles.
“The whole team is really excited about the position that we’re in, but we’re not underestimating the fact that in rowing, rankings really don’t matter until the end,” said sophomore Katie Toothman. “It all comes down to the grand finals in the NCAAs, so hopefully we make it.”
This year, after upsetting Cal at the annual Big Row, sweeping the Golden Bears in all three varsity events and winning the program’s first Pac-12 conference title two weeks ago, the Card have high hopes heading into this weekend.
“You have to know what it feels like to leave everything on the water because otherwise you get to NCAAs and it’s a shock, so that’s a big thing that we’ve been focusing on this year,” said senior Christina Bax. “We can’t just wait until the NCAAs to finally discover what it is to go all out. This season, we are learning what it means to not hold anything back and just be relentless.”
With the NCAA switching to the automatic bid system, Stanford was able to automatically qualify for the regatta with its conference title. Last year, the women received an at-large berth and finished 10th in the team standings. Toothman pointed out, though, that the automatic bid system keeps top leagues, like the Ivy League, from sending as many top teams to nationals. In this way, the change allows smaller conferences to send their conference champions.
“I’d say in 20 years, this is a good system but right now we’re in the transition period where it’s really hard,” Toothman said. “When I was getting recruited in talking to coaches I heard them say that this new automatic bid system was stupid, because what if they don’t get a bid to NCAAs when they are faster than 10 other teams there.”
Stanford enters today’s races with the second seed behind defending champion Ohio State. The Card will be competing in the 1V8, 2V8, and varsity four races. If the boats win their first heat today, then they will automatically advance to the semis on Saturday. In turn, a top two finish in the semifinals would land them a spot in the Grand Finals on Sunday; otherwise, a boat would advance to the B Finals, a race that the Card competed in last year. A loss in the preliminary heats would not remove the Card from semifinal consideration. Rather, Stanford would have to compete in a second “rep” or heat this afternoon, with the top two teams from that second heat advancing to the semifinals.
“We’re ranked second right now and Ohio State is first. That being said, Ohio State hasn’t raced a lot of people, but they are the defending national champions,” Toothman said. “I’d say between Cal, Ohio State, Brown, Princeton, those will all be in the Grand Final and honestly it could go any way.”
The men will have to undergo a similar process in order to advance through the IRA Championship Regatta, with their first heats beginning this morning. The 1V8 and 2V8 boats both qualified for the championship regatta, and will be competing after the team’s most recent fourth-place finish in the Pac-12 championships.
“We started off this season with three weeks in a row of racing and that equates to three weeks of taper and we had our good pieces and we had our bad pieces and then [at the San Diego Crew Classic in April], when we should’ve performed in the final we didn’t and I think that started to lead to a lot of lineup switches and personnel switches,” said junior Kaess Smit.
All spring, the team has been in a constant state of flux with regards to the lineup. However, head coach Craig Amerkhanian is confident that the fastest rowers have been placed in their correct boats.
“The easy part of Craig’s job is figuring out who the best guys are, but 90 percent of the work is how they are going to line up behind each other,” said senior Austin Hack, who will be rowing in his last regatta as a Cardinal this weekend but will continue rowing for the national team after graduation.
For much of the season, the Cardinal could only gauge themselves against Washington and Cal, the number one and two teams in the nation, so the team is eager to test itself against other colleges that are similar in speed to the Card.
Competition begins early this morning for both the men’s and women’s teams, with action continuing until Sunday.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.