2017 NCAA Rowing Championships Preview and Predictions

Time to dance (Photo: RR)

Because we had to. Below is our take on the front runners for the 2017 NCAA Rowing Championships at Mercer Lake this weekend. Beware: Opinions to follow.

DI Varsity Eight A Final Picks

1. Texas

This boat is stacked with talent and is undefeated this season, having won every race by open water. And yet, somehow, we feel like these guys have gone somewhat unnoticed, with lots of the attention on Cal and Washington.

We wouldn't be surprised if this is one of the fastest eights Dave O'Neill has ever coached. The only two holdovers from the Carie Graves era in the 1V are seniors Gia Doonan and Pippa Loveard, who were both around 7 minutes for 2k on the erg before O'Neill arrived in Austin three years ago. (We're willing to bet both are under 6:50 for 2k these days.) Add to this group junior Emily Froehlich who transferred to Texas in January of her sophomore year, after going under 7:05 as a novice at Purdue.

Sophomore Mariam Soufi brings a high level of power and fitness to the equation after switching from swimming to rowing only a couple years ago. Sophomore Alice Bowyer returns from the 2016 Texas V8 after winning a silver medal for Great Britain at the 2016 Under 23 World Championships. Fanny Bon, a former junior national teamer from the Netherlands, may have one of the silkiest strokes in the NCAA. However, Bon's rhythm and feel may be rivaled only by Freshman Serbian national teamer Ljiljana Josic who has been stroking the V8 late in the season. (It's safe to say Josic is an elite freshman.) The boat will be rounded out by fellow Serbian freshman Milica Slijepcevic, who will be bringing big length and power in the middle of the boat this weekend.

The scariest thing about this boat? Only two seniors and one junior among the eight rowers.

2. California

After losing to Washington at the Pac-12 Championships, we wouldn't be surprised to see a lineup change for the Bears, as we believe Al Acosta may have a couple more tricks up his sleeve heading into the race that really counts—round three of the Cal/UW matchup this year.

Senior GB U23 national teamer Rowan McKellar has been stroking the boat and lays down a fiercely aggressive rhythm. German Sophomore Charlotte Wesselmann might just end up joining her in the stern pair after stroking the JV at Pac-12s. These two will likely be backed up by some serious juice in the middle of the boat including sophomore Dana Moffat and freshman Juliane Faralisch, both of whom we believe are well under 6:40 for 2k on the erg. They will likely be joined by German Doro Beckendorff, Norwegian Inger Kavlie and Canadians Sydney Payne and Julia Vander Hoeven.

The power that Payne, Faralisch, Moffat, Kavlie, and Beckendorff bring to the boat will make them very hard to beat.

3. Washington

The Huskies will certainly have plenty of fitness and will be looking to make a statement. It looks like they have their lineups figured out after struggling to find separation between 1V and 2V early in the season, so we are expecting to see the same Husky lineup we saw at Pac-12 Championships.

Italian Chiara Ondoli will be laying down the rhythm and bringing some nice power in the stroke seat and will be backed up by relatively young, but highly talented Sophomore Elise Beuke who broke 7 minutes for 2k on the erg and took second in the 1x at Youth Nationals in just her 2nd year in the sport in high school.

Though she lacks some of the elite power on the erg that many of her teammates have, former U.S. junior national teamer Katy Gillingham has plenty of fight and aggressiveness and has enough juice for her size to get the job done, having figured out how to get her boats in the lead consistently. German freshmen Tabea Schendekehl and Annemieke Schanze will be looking to make an impact in their first NCAA Championships, while Husky veterans Jessica Thoennes, Brooke Pierson and Brooke Mooney will be doing big work in the middle of the boat trying to help the Huskies win their first NCAA team championship since 2001 and their first V8 title since 2002.

4. Ohio State

The Buckeyes have won the last three titles in the varsity eight, so it may not be wise to put them out of the medals, but they lost an elite stern pair from last year's V8 and appear to be lacking a bit of the top end talent they had in recent years.

We believe that could prove to be the difference between winning and finishing second, third or fourth, but they have Spanish Olympian Aina Cid I Centelles back on the squad after she took last year off to race the pair at the Olympics. They will be led by Cid, German sophomore Ida Kruse and Australian senior Steph Williams, who all bring elite talent to the equation.

Australian Rachel Engel, Kiwi Alice Riley, German Anne Dietrich and American U23 world champion Cassandra Johnson all return from last year's NCAA champion varsity eight. Junior Bridget Schodorf is a newcomer to the Ohio State 1V this season after racing in the Buckeye 2V in 2016. We could easily see this crew finishing first, second or third on Sunday, and frankly, we've just picked them to finish fourth because we are having a hard time figuring out which of the crews above them may falter.

5. Princeton

If there is one thing Princeton coach Lori Dauphiny knows how to do, it's consistently produce an elite varsity eight. This crew will be polished and firing on all cylinders led by Australian Georgie Howe, Americans Emily Kallfelz, Claire Collins who are likely all three under 6:50 for 2k on the erg.

The boat features two freshmen Americans Hadley Irwin and Emerson Solms. They were very impressive in winning the Ivy League Championship, storming to the front from the beginning, and we expect them to go right to the lead in Friday's heats—we won't be surprised if they beat Ohio State in the heat, though we don't expect that same result in the final on Sunday.

6. Michigan

Mark Rothstein has done an impressive job with the Wolverines, and they are clearly sick of Ohio State taking all the glory in the Big Ten. They have answered the bell and went toe to toe with the Buckeyes in impressive fashion at the Big Ten Championships.

While they have some good athletes with pedigree, we are not sure they have enough juice to mix it up with the top five varsity eights. They will be led by Under 23 world champion Kendall Brewer and senior Kate Wright who have a lot of experience and have what it takes to put their bow in the mix.

Big Ten Freshman of the Year, South African Tayla-May Bentley, has been a difference maker for the Wolverines in 2017 and is clearly bringing elite fitness to the Michigan boat. Tessa Yurko, who broke the Michigan 6k erg record this winter (no small feat considering the number of national team and Olympic athletes Michigan has produced over the years) will be backing up Bentley in the engine room. Senior Louisa Freeman, and sophomore former American junior national teamers Meghan Gutknecht and Shayla Lamb will also be providing some top end power in the Wolverine V8.

DI NCAA Team Title Predictions

1. Washington

Their depth is unbelievable. Indeed, they will undoubtedly be leaving athletes home who could fill in and make the A Final in the second varsity eight or varsity four.

We believe they may have the fastest V4 in NCAA history—they have reset the bar in terms of team depth and how fast teams must go to win in the lower boats. Clearly, they've been working very hard and have done everything their new coach has asked of them. They come in as the no. 1 seed in all three boats, so we will see how they handle the expectations in Yaz Farooq's first year leading the Huskies.

She has done it before as the Stanford head coach—can she beat Dave O'Neill to becoming the first coach to win an NCAA title with two schools?

2. Texas

We believe they may have the fastest 1V in the country in Dave O'Neill's third year leading the Longhorns. Although they didn't show it finishing eighth as a team in 2016 (after barely missing out on the A final in the V8), they have steadily improved each year since O'Neill's arrival and we will be very surprised if they are not on the podium as a team this year.

Their varsity eight has been consistent all year, but they have recently shuffled their second varsity eight and varsity four lineups trying to find the right combinations for the last weekend in May. We believe the second varsity will have plenty of fitness led by Sophomore stroke Margaret Dail who has been impressive on the erg for her size despite being the shortest athlete in the boat. There is plenty of height and very good power in the Longhorn 2V, so we will be interested to see just how high this boat can finish.

Freshman U.S. junior national teamer Jillian Renly is very talented in the bow seat of this boat as are freshmen Alexa McAuliffe and Alexandra Watson and former walk-on Rachel Fleming.

3. California

The defending national champions will have their work cut out for them, but the Golden Bears certainly have the talent to get the job done in all boats.

Despite some disappointing losses to Washington this season, Cal has the ability to compete to win in all three events. Al Acosta has been adjusting the lineups quite a bit through the season, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they get everyone in the right seats when it matters most. (They were without Mia Croonquist at the Pac-12 Championships, so she will make a difference if she's back with the Bears this weekend in New Jersey.)

If there is any team that can match Washington's depth in the three NCAA boats on paper, it's Cal. We will not be surprised to see them finish at the top in any event. If they get things right, we could see them back on the podium as defending champions like we did when they won in 2005 and 2006.

4. Ohio State

They certainly know how to get the job done, having finished a very close second as a team last year to Cal after winning the previous three NCAA team titles.

Interestingly, the Buckeyes scored 126 points in each of the last four NCAA Championships, and it took Cal scoring 129 (an NCAA record) to beat them.

If they are able to score 126 points again as a team this year, we think they will have a great shot to regain their title. Americans Allyson Baker, Morgan Hummel, Annie Jachthuber, Sarah Peffley and German Sandra Dinter have great experience that will have an impact in the second varsity eight. Just to keep things interesting, former Washington transfer Abby Ernst, Bob Ernst's daughter, will be looking to help the Ohio State V4 regain their national title.

We trust that they will have great fitness as a team and will be ready to have their best performance of the season when it counts. We expect all three of their boats to have what it takes to make the grand finals.

5. Michigan

This group has great depth and will be looking to finish like they did in 2012 when the team was second at the NCAA Championships. We will be surprised if they are able to get all three boats into the grand final, but we won't be surprised if they are able to get two of their three boats there, which should help them finish in the top five as a team.

We will be expecting big contributions from talented Australian sophomore Rebecca Joyce, and Americans sophomores Rachel Fanning and Caroline Hendershot along with former walk-on talent Lexie Beemer in the Wolverines second varsity eight.

Picks for Remaining DI Team Finish Order:

6. Princeton
7. Brown
8. Virginia
9. Yale
10. Stanford
11. Wisconsin
12. Syracuse
13. Washington State
14. Iowa
15. Indiana
16. Gonzaga
17. Notre Dame
18. UCF
19. Northeastern
20. Navy
21. Umass
22. Jacksonville

As for DII, we are taking the favorites Western Washington to regain a title they long held in the past, while Bates are the top team entering competition at the DIII level.

So, there you have it—just try to act surprised when it all happens for real this weekend in New Jersey.

Winky face emoji.


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