The University of Washington picked its men's eight for the Head of the Charles the way it always does - by letting the oarsmen do it themselves.
Everyone took the water in pairs at daybreak Tuesday at Montlake Cut for a 6,000-meter race, with the top four getting tickets to Boston for the weekend race.
“We’re leaving some very talented guys at home,” says coach Michael Callahan, whose varsity-of-the-moment will be bidding to become the first college crew to win consecutive championships in Boston since Navy earned its fourth straight in 1983.
That’s how the Husky meritocracy works – mobility through hard work – and it’s how Washington won here last year then went on to sweep the varsity, JV, and freshman races at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships in June. Depth and daily competition produce quality.
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“It’s always been a source of pride that the 4th V guy pushes the 3d V guy, all the way up the ladder,” Callahan says.
Even the coxswains go at it.
“Everyone pushes each other to be on their ‘A’ game every day,” says Michelle Darby, a junior from North Andover who’ll be at the tiller this afternoon when the Huskies take on the German world champions, the French national boat, a U.S. entry, and several British eights, as well as many of the country’s top college crews.
There are no guarantees around Conibear Shellhouse but Darby, who coxed last season’s JV boat, is in line to inherit a seat that has produced Olympic and world champions. Mary Whipple, a 2002 graduate, coxed the U.S. women to Olympic gold and silver medals at the last two games. And Katelin Snyder, who coxed last year’s Husky varsity, steered the Americans to their third straight title at the August world championships in Poland.
Since she’s been on campus, Darby, who coxed Phillips Andover to victory at Henley, has boned up on the school’s rich history afloat – the 1936 varsity that stormed out of fifth place to win the Olympic gold medal in Berlin and the 13 IRA crowns, two of them in the last three years.
Last Saturday, the four IRA champion boats were honored at halftime of the home football game with Arizona, bringing their oars onto the gridiron as 60,000 people watched a HuskyTron video of the boat’s massive late push that nipped favored Cal.
“Sometimes crew operates in the background,” says Callahan, “but people enjoy watching rowing here and they value it.”
Both the school’s scenic setting and the program’s longstanding prominence lure oarsmen from around the planet to Washington.
“The Internet is a wonderful thing,” says Callahan, whose roster includes folks from New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Croatia, and Serbia, plus a bunch of Canadians.
“We’re close to home for them,” says Callahan, who had five men from north of the border on last year’s varsity. “When they come here, they know it’s a different country, but it doesn’t feel that much different from Vancouver or Victoria.”
Even in a day when most of the country’s top programs recruit talent from international junior teams, Washington’s assemblage is markedly diverse.
“I don’t think of them as foreigners,” says Max Weaver, who comes from Snohomish. “I just think of them as teammates. What really matters is that we’re all Huskies.”
Once they step into a shell, their résumés don’t matter. The program may be stocked with guys who’ve won medals at world regattas and are Olympics-bound, but there are no reserved seats.
“It comes down to who makes the boat go fast,” says Callahan.
The Germans, French, Brits, and their fellow Americans are loaded with global experience, but the Huskies are eager to see who can handle 3 miles along a twisting course on one October afternoon.
“We’re just excited to step forward and take the challenge,” says Weaver. “It’s amazing to be able to race against such great athletes and we’re just thankful for the opportunity.”