No. 19 Women's Crew Aiming For Nationals In 2003

June 11, 2002

CORVALLIS, Ore. -

2002 IN REVIEWLocated about halfway between the other two major West Coast crew powers, Oregon State University Women's Crew proved again this year that they belong in the same category with Washington and California, not simply on the same side of the country.

The Beavers climbed the national rankings steadily all season, starting at 19 in preseason polls and rising through 18th, 17th, 16th, and 13th by May 15. A disappointing finish by the varsity eight at Pac-10s dropped OSU back down to 19th in the May 22 version of the National Rowing Coaches' Association poll.

'It's too bad the varsity boat finished up at Pac-10s how they did, because they really accomplished a lot this year,' said OSU head coach Charlie Owen. 'Last year it was a young boat and they really performed kind of poorly on race days. This year, they worked hard and really rose to the occasion most of the season.'

The Beavers rarely faltered over the 2002 season. The University of Victoria, one of the strongest rowing programs in North America, gave the Beavers a challenging season-opener. The Vikings, who are essentially a feeder program for the Canadian National Team, were never able to pull away from a speedy but untested Oregon State team. OSU's 3rd varsity eight defeated its Victoria counterpart by nearly six seconds, and every other race was close.

Oregon State's next test was at Pac-10 up-and-comer Washington State. The Beavers captured the second-ever Winchell Cup with victories in the varsity eight, JV eight, and varsity four.

OSU's sweep of the varsity races over Washington State gave the Beavers confidence heading into the San Diego Crew Classic. The Beavers advanced the novice eight to the Grand Final, where it eventually placed third behind Washington State and Washington. The varsity eight advanced to the Petite Final, where they placed second behind USC. The OSU JV eight turned in their lone shaky performance of the 2002 season, and still placed first in the JV eight Petite Final.

'They really only had once race all year where they had any kind of letdown, and that was San Diego, where they didn't quite do as well as all their other races,' said Charlie Owen of his JV crew's consistency.

After returning home from the crowds and media hype of San Diego, the Beavers made another trip south, this time to take on California and Stanford at Redwood Shores. It was a showdown of Pac-10 power, with OSU claiming victory in the JV eight and Novice eight over both the Bears and the Cardinal, and beating Stanford in the varsity four.

Next up was a rare cross-country road trip to Clemson, South Carolina. The Beaver varsity eight faced three teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time in Washington State, Duke, Clemson, and Tennessee. OSU got the victory, defeating the WSU Cougars head-to-head for the second time in 2002. Owen was pleased with how his crew fared against competition away from the West Coast.

'[The varsity eight] had some times in the season where they accomplished a lot,' said Owen. 'It was great to go down to Clemson and win a race there.'

To round out the regular season, the Beavers hosted Washington at Lake Vancouver, OSU's home water in Vancouver, Wash. The normally dominant Huskies got more than they bargained for. Every event, especially the JV eight, was extremely close, and OSU defeated Washington in the varsity four race for the first time in recent memory.

PAC-10 POWERThe final test for the Beavers would be racing against the elite competition at the Pac-10 Rowing Championships in Sacramento, Calif. At season's end, six of the seven varsity Pac-10 rowing programs were ranked in the Top 20 by the National Rowing Coaches' Association.

Against these strong opponents, OSU advanced all four crews to the Grand Finals, and all except the varsity eight were satisfied with their performances.

In the varsity four, OSU finished second only to Washington; defeating Stanford, California, Washington State, and UC Davis.

'We've had the four finish second before, but over the last five years, the competitiveness of the four has improved. I think it says something that Cal won and Washington finished third. It was the first time I've seen Washington finish third, that I can remember,' said Owen.

The OSU JV eight also finished second at the Pac-10s, wrapping up their season with yet another solid race.

'The JV eight really had an outstanding year, and finished it up really well at the Pac-10s,' said Owen, again emphasizing the consistency of the JV eight's performances all season. 'Second place at Pac-10s is very good...With the competitiveness of the Pac-10, it's exciting to see that. They were a very good crew this year.'

The highlight of OSU's Pac-10s was undeniably the race turned in by the novice eight in their Grand Final. For the first time in the history of women's rowing at Oregon State, a Beaver crew won a conference title.

'The novice eight came through in a tight race--it ended up being a photo finish--to win it, which was terrific,' said Owen. 'We're excited that the majority of the women on that crew will be coming back next year. They should add a lot to the competitiveness of our team next year.'

Unfortunately, it was the varsity eight's finish at the Pac-10s that would determine whether Oregon State would send a contingent to the NCAA National Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2002, it ultimately came down to one bad stroke. The varsity eight caught a 'crab,' where an oar slices too deeply into the water and gets stuck along the boat's hull, in the first 100 meters of the Grand Final and never recovered, eventually finishing sixth in the Grand Finals.

Owen summed it up, 'With the exception of the varsity, our Pac-10 Championships was outstanding. If [the varsity eight] had finished one place higher, we would have gone to nationals.'

OUTLOOK GOODSince women's crew was first established at Oregon State, the program has steadily improved, as has women's rowing in general. Washington remains the team to beat, but OSU and the rest of the Pac-10 have closed the gap. Oregon State, Stanford, and Washington State have joined Washington and California among the elite collegiate programs in the United States.

'The first year of NCAAs, our varsity boat finished ninth and we were the 10th-ranked team. But that was six years ago, and this year's crew would have beaten that crew, easily,' said Owen. 'We have seen so much growth over the last six years in the competitiveness of the sport.'

The 2003 edition of OSU Women's Crew promises to continue the progress made by this year's team. The Beavers will lose eight seniors to graduation, but Owen has confidence that his returning underclassmen and incoming freshmen will more than just fill the empty seats.

'I think there are some people in our recruiting class that are going to do really well,' said Owen. He characterizes the 2003 recruiting class as a mix of experienced rowers and physically ideal athletes.

'We went out an signed an experienced coxswain. There are two freshmen from Canada who have some good rowing experience and are really fast...and there are a handful of other women coming who have some rowing experience, so I think we'll have a really good crew next year,' says Owen.

'There's a tall woman from Eugene who I think could pan out to be very well. We've got some women who have been playing basketball that we recruited this year, that don't have any rowing experience, but they are just plain very good athletes and have the physical makeup that we want: tall and strong.'

FOND GOODBYESEight seniors will bid farewell to OSU Women's Crew this summer, including three from the varsity eight. Joy Jordan, whose impressive collegiate career was capped off by All-Conference Honors in 2002, has been a fixture in the varsity boat since her junior year. From the varsity eight, Karen Hopfer and coxswain Laurie Williams will also leave the program this year.

In the JV eight, the Beavers will lose Melissa Flint and Allison Egan to graduation. And most of the varsity four--seniors Katie Beachwood, Lauren Sommers, and coxswain Kristy Straw--will be leaving as well.

The Beavers will return six rowers from the varsity eight, six rowers and a coxswain from the JV eight, and 2002's solid novice class next year.

Also leaving the OSU crew program are assistant coaches Jane LaRiviere and Matt Imes. LaRiviere has spent eight seasons at Oregon State, mostly working with novice rowers. She will take over the head women's coaching position at Washington State.

'We would not be where we are right now if not for Jane,' said Owen. 'We're really going to miss having her around. Whoever comes in has some big shoes to fill.'

Imes has accepted an assistant coaching job with the U.S. National Team out of Princeton, NJ. He has spent five years with OSU crew, two seasons with the men's team and the past three seasons with the women.

'Our program showed a lot of development with the work that Matt put in,' said Owen. 'He did a very good job here and he will be missed, but he also has a great opportunity to work with the national team.'

Owen, who has been accepting applications since the end of the season, hopes to select new coaches to fill the vacated positions promptly.

NEXT YEARAfter a highly successful 2002 season, the Beavers are looking to improve even more in 2003. Failing to earn a bid to the national championships still stings, and it is something the team intends to rectify next year. Owen knows there is a simple way to ensure that OSU will be invited to the NCAAs.

'I want to have all our boats finish in the top three at Pac-10s, preferably top two,' he says.

That will be no small feat, as Washington, California, Stanford, USC, and Washington State all promise to be national contenders again next year. But the Beavers are confident they will be up to the challenge.

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