Defending Champs Picked To Lead GNAC Rowing Season
Central Oklahoma scored 30 points to win last year's Division II national title, sweeping both the varsity 8+ and varsity 4+ grand finals.
Central Oklahoma scored 30 points to win last year's Division II national title, sweeping both the varsity 8+ and varsity 4+ grand finals.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. – When you are the defending national champion, it’s hard to pick against you.

Such is the case for two-time defending champion Central Oklahoma, which picked up all five first-place votes in the inaugural Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Women’s Rowing Preseason Coaches Poll.

In the first season of a conference that saw four of its programs advance to the NCAA Championships last May, the Bronchos lead the way with 25 points. Western Washington, the 2018 national runner-up, is picked second with 16 points.

UC San Diego, competing in the GNAC for its final year as a Division II member, is picked third with 14 points. Seattle Pacific is picked fourth with 13 points and Humboldt State fifth with seven points.

All five teams will compete in the first GNAC Women’s Rowing Championships on Saturday, May 16 at Lake Natoma near Sacramento, California. The championship will be held in conjunction with championship events for the Pac-12, West Coast Conference and American Athletic Conference.

Central Oklahoma was dominant in winning the 2019 Division II national championship, winning both the varsity 4+ and varsity 8+ grand final races by margins of four seconds. The Bronchos finished with a team score of 30 points, seven points better than Florida Tech and eight ahead of Western Washington. The Bronchos had four rowers named CRCA All-Americans, all of whom are back for their senior seasons. Eileen Anderson and Megan Dwarshuis, the fifth and sixth repeat All-Americans in program history, and coxswain Madisyn Kitchell were first-team selections while Shelby Wackerly was a second-team selection.

To accomplish a threepeat, however, Central Oklahoma will have to navigate through some transition. Head coach Montia Rice moved on to Central Florida after three years and was replaced by Princeton assistant Brian Ebke.

Western Washington is an annual fixture on the national stage, having appeared at the national meet in 18 of the last 19 seasons. During that span, the Vikings have won eight national championships, the last in 2017, and finished third in last year’s championship after placing second in 2018. In 17 years of Division II women’s rowing, the Vikings have never missed a national grand final. In last year’s national regatta, Western Washington was second to Central Oklahoma in the varsity 8+ and placed a narrow third over Seattle Pacific in the varsity 4+.

Head coach John Fuchs is one of the deans of college rowing as he is in his 22nd year leading the Western Washington program. This year’s squad is led by a quartet of four-year performers in Angie Dexter, Carly Lant, Michaela Bonenberger and coxswain Jonah Bettger.

UC San Diego placed sixth at last year’s national championships and would like nothing better than gaining a spot on the podium in the program’s final Division II season. The Tritons advanced to both petite finals races after placing third in the varsity 4+ repechage and fourth in the varsity 8+ repechage. The teams ultimately placed fifth in the varsity 8+ and sixth in the varsity 4+. Earlier in the season, UCSD saw its varsity 8+ finish runner-up at the WIRA Championships and make the grand finals at the Dad Vail Regatta.

The Tritons will be led by junior coxswain Juni Kim, who earned CRCA All-American honors while also being tapped to attend the U.S. National Team selection camp for the World Rowing U23 Championships. Setting the pace in the stroke seats is senior Caitlin Tribelhorn, a four-year member of the squad, and senior Morgan Dewing. In all, five crew members from last year’s varsity 8+ boat return for the Tritons.

The 2019 season marked a renaissance for Seattle Pacific, which returned to the NCAA’s championship regatta for the first time in seven years. Both Falcons’ boats advanced through the repechage races in second place to advance to the grand finals. The varsity 8+ and varsity 4+ finished fourth in the final, with the 4+ just being edged out by time by Western Washington, to finish the team competition solidly in fourth place.

Seattle Pacific returns an experienced lineup with all but two crew members that went to last year’s national meet eligible to return. The list of returners is led by senior Gillian Edgar, who earned CRCA All-American honors for the second straight season. The Falcons also return a trio of veteran coxswains in juniors Roxy Ruther and Cecelia Krause and sophomore LeeAnn Arrington.

Like Central Oklahoma, Humboldt State is in a coaching transition with the retirement of longtime head coach Robin Meiggs. Longtime assistant Patrick Hyland is leading the program through the 2020 season as the Lumberjacks aim to return to the national regatta for the first time since 2016. The HSU season was highlighted by the WIRA Championships, where the Lumberjacks advanced all six of its boats to grand finals and won the team’s third consecutive team points trophy. The Lumberjacks also advanced took fourth in both the varsity 4+ and 8+ grand finals at the Dad Vail Regatta.

The Lumberjacks will be led by a core of six seniors, including coxswains Jennifer McLean and Janelle Mendoza.

FALL COMPETITION: All five GNAC teams started the tuneup for the first conference season with a small schedule of fall regattas.

Central Oklahoma opened its title defense with a pair of competitions close to home. The Bronchos took first in the collegiate 4+ night sprints grand final at the Head of the Oklahoma on October 6, finishing ahead of three Division I programs. The program added a sixth-place finish and a 12th-place finish in the varsity 8+ race at the Tulsa Invitational on November 2.

Both Seattle Pacific and Western Washington raced on the Montlake Cut on November 3 in the 40th annual Head of the Lake Regatta. The Falcons’ varsity 8+ took third on the three-mile course in 18:08.99, trailing only two crews from defending Division I national champion Washington. The second varsity 8+ captured a runner-up spot in 18:48.64, again only trailing a Washington boat.

Western Washington entered two boats in the women’s collegiate third varsity 8+, placing second and third with times of 18:49.93 and 19:18.58, respectively.

UC San Diego participated in two events on Mission Bay over the fall. The Tritons hosted their annual Row For The Cure on October 27, which was headlined by a fifth-place finish in the women’s open 8. At the San Diego Fall Classic on November 10, the varsity 8+ raced to a seventh-place finish in a time of 17:09.907.

Humboldt State raced once during the fall, participating in the Head of the Lagoon regatta on November 9 in Foster City, California. The Lumberjacks placed second in the collegiate varsity 8+ in a time of 20:10.9, finishing 18 seconds behind Division I Saint Mary’s (Calif.). The collegiate varsity 4+ yielded a third-place finish in 22:20.9.

SPRING STARTS: Two GNAC teams open the spring season this month. UC San Diego will participate in regatta against the University of San Diego and San Diego State on Saturday, February 15. Seattle Pacific will duel against Gonzaga on the Lake Washington Ship Canal on February 21 and 22. Western Washington opens with the PLU Invitational on March 7 while Central Oklahoma will open at Seattle Pacific’s Falcon Regatta on March 14. Humboldt State also commences the spring schedule on March 14 at the Sacramento State Invitational.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) Points
1. Central Oklahoma (5) 25
2. Western Washington 16
3. UC San Diego 14
4. Seattle Pacific 13
5. Humboldt State 7
Points awarded on 5-4-3-2-1 basis.