Nation's top rowers head to Lake Natoma for Pac-12 Championships

Several of the nation’s top men’s and women’s rowing crews will descend on Lake Natoma in Gold River, Calif., for the annual Pac-12 Rowing Championships. The lake has already hosted a tightly contested tournament featuring Pac-12 teams this season as the USC women edged  California and Stanford in the varsity eights at the Lake Natoma Invitational in April. In the latest rankings, the USC women topped the USRowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association poll for the fifth straight week, while the Washington men maintained their perch atop the USRowing collegiate poll for the sixth straight week. The Washington men have spent the entire season at No. 1. Six Pac-12 women’s teams are ranked in the top 20, including five in the top 10, while four men’s teams grace the most recent poll.

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MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS PREVIEW The Pac-12 Rowing Championships will, once again, feature a loaded field on the men’s side. Four Pac-12 men’s rowing crews enter the week ranked in the top 20 in the USRowing Collegiate Poll, and three are ranked among the top seven. Six squads will compete at this year’s Conference Championships and five will have their sights set on unseating three-time defending champion Washington. Washington, ranked No. 1 in the latest USRC rankings, is seeking its fourth consecutive Pac-12 Championship and its sixth in the last seven years. The Huskies raced to an undefeated season in 2012 and won all five Grand Finals at the IRA National Championships en route to claiming their 15th national title. The Huskies, who accrued the highest team score at the IRAs, won the Ten Eyck Trophy for the sixth straight season. The men’s varsity eight is undefeated this season and has notched dual race victories over ranked opponents Stanford (No. 4), California (No. 6) and Oregon State (No. 20). Washington won all four races in each of those regattas. The Huskies also topped Cambridge University in London in a tune-up for the spring season. Stanford avenged a season-opening loss to California at the San Diego Crew Classic, topping the Bears in the Big Row and capturing the Schwabacher Cup in the varsity eight for the first time since 2008. The Cardinal’s varsity eight shell established a new course record in the win. Two weeks prior, the I Eight posted wins over No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 20 Oregon State at the Stanford Invitational. The Pac-12 Championships will provide another shot at redemption for the Cardinal, who fell to top-ranked Washington in its opening race at the Stanford Invitational.

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California looks to upend four-time defending Conference champion Washington after finishing second to the Huskies in each of the four events at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships. The sixth-ranked Golden Bears kicked off the 2013 spring campaign with a varsity eight victory at the San Diego Crew Classic to claim their fourth Copley Cup in the past five years. The I Eight followed its performance in the opener with a convincing win over No. 11 Wisconsin at the Stanford Invitational on April 20 and paced the Bears to a sweep of then-No. 19 Oregon State the following weekend. Oregon State brings a battle-hardened crew to Lake Natoma. The 20th-ranked Beavers have gone toe-to-toe with four top-10 teams this season and made a statement early in the spring season. OSU’s varsity eight earned a spot in the Grand Final of the San Diego Crew Classic after finishing third in its qualifying heat. The Beavers finished fourth at the Conference meet last season. Colorado and Washington State complete the men’s field at the Pac-12 Championships. Washington State finished sixth in the varsity eight last season, while Colorado finished seventh.

WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS PREVIEW The women’s competition promises to be as competitive as ever, as six Pac-12 teams are ranked among the top 20 in the CRCA/US Rowing Coaches Poll, and a seventh is receiving votes. The Conference claims three of the top four teams in the poll and five of the top 10. Two-time defending champion California isn’t ready for a changing of the guard, but top-ranked USC, which won the league title in 2007, has other ideas.

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USC will put its No. 1 national ranking on the line at the Pac-12 Championships as it looks to improve upon its fifth-place finish at the regatta a year ago. The Trojans return to Lake Natoma, where they captured the team title at the Lake Natoma Invitational in April. USC enjoyed a record-setting day at the San Diego Crew Classic and won three trophies at the regatta for the second time in program history. The varsity eight, which remains unbeaten this season, claimed its third straight Jessop-Whittier Cup, while the second varsity eight won the Jackie Ann Stitt Hungness Trophy and the varsity four claimed the Karen Plumleigh Cortney Cup.  The Trojans also notched an impressive sweep of No. 6 UCLA in varsity races in a dual in early May. Second-ranked California is seeking its fifth consecutive Pac-12 crown and its eighth in the last nine years. After finishing second at the San Diego Crew Classic and the Lake Natoma Invitational, the Golden Bears’ varsity eight saw its nine-race win streak against Washington snapped by the then-No. 1 Huskies in Seattle. It bounced back the following week, capping a four-race sweep of No. 10 Stanford in the Big Row to retain the Lambert Cup for the fourth straight year. As a team, Cal captured three of four Grand Finals at the Lake Natoma Invitational but finished second behind top-ranked USC by just one point. Washington has won three straight varsity eight races since finishing fifth at the San Diego Crew Classic in early April, including a dual victory over California. The Huskies captured their first Simpson Cup since 2003 with a two-second victory over the Bears in the varsity eights and added a win in the novice eights. They went on to win five of seven races against Washington State in their annual dual, including the varsity eight, to keep the Apple Cup trophy in Seattle for the third year in a row. Washington closed out the regular season with its seventh straight Windermere Cup victory, finishing 12 seconds ahead of second-place Cornell and 18 seconds ahead of third-place Dartmouth in the varsity eights.

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UCLA, currently ranked No. 7 by the CRCA, is no stranger to high-profile regattas. The Bruins’ varsity four finished second at the San Diego Crew Classic, less than five seconds behind first-place USC, while their varsity eight finished fourth behind a trio of crews ranked in the top 10 and ahead of No. 7 Washington. They followed up with a solid performance at the Clemson Invitational, an event that featured seven nationally ranked crews. UCLA won six of eight races on day one of the regatta, and both of its varsity eight shells recorded second-place finishes on day two. Stanford has seen its fair share of top-notch competition as well. The 10th-ranked Cardinal kicked off the spring campaign with its top three crews earning wins in eight of nine races against No. 17 Clemson, Oklahoma and Northeastern at the Pac-12 Women’s Challenge. Stanford tied for third in points at the Lake Natoma Invitational before sweeping all three events (varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity four) at the Oregon State Classic in April. Washington State swept Gonzaga in an early season dual for the second consecutive year and advanced its varsity four crew to the grand finals at the San Diego Crew Classic. The Cougars’ varsity four and second varsity four shells topped cross-state rival Washington in its annual Apple Cup dual.  Washington State also swept Oregon State on April 27 to retain the Crawford Perpetual Plate and the Winchell Cup and followed it up with a second-place finish at the Oregon State Classic later that afternoon. WSU is ranked No. 18 by the CRCA. Oregon State, which opened the season with eight wins in its first nine races, captured four of five races from Gonzaga in a March dual. OSU, which finished fourth or better in six of nine races at the Clemson Invitational in April, is the second-leading vote-getter among unranked teams in the CRCA poll. The Beavers’ varsity four earned a runner-up finish at the inaugural Oregon State Classic, while their varsity eight crew finished third.

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