Sports

Cardinal women discover a championship at Lake Natoma

The No. 3 Stanford Women's Rowing team did what no other team in program history was able to do on Sunday: win the program's first ever Pac-12 Rowing Championship.

"From the beginning of the season this team had their eye on the prize," Cardinal coach Yasmin Farooq said. "This conference championship serves as a confidence booster for how hard they can fight in a race. I am proud of them for that."

Stanford was one of seven ranked teams in the field, including four of the top 10 teams in the country. It was one of the toughest fields in Pac-12 Championship history and figured to be a battle for the title.

The Cardinal had to out-row No. 4 Cal, No. 7 Washington, No. 8 USC, No. 12 UCLA, No. 15 Washington State and No. 19 Oregon State if they were going to claim the title for the first time.

Previous Cardinal teams had come close, including the 2010 squad, which lost by a half-point to Cal. However, this Stanford team would leave no doubters along the beach of Lake Natoma as they had podium finishes in all four races with three gold medals and one bronze.

"Yaz (Farooq) always tell us that anybody can cross the finish line first," said senior Kristy Wentzel. "We didn't know that we were going to win it, but crossing the finish line first, there is no better feeling than that."

Stanford finished with 44 1/2 points to win by nine points over Washington. Cal, one of the preseason favorites finished third overall with 32 points. UCLA had 27 points for fourth, while USC notched 18.5 for fifth. Washington State tallied 17.5 points and Oregon State rounded out the field with seven points.

"It is such a surreal moment," said senior Daphne Martschenko. "We all came into the season with the same goal in mind. Today showed that we committed to putting in the work and now it has paid off."

One of the keys for Stanford heading into the Pac-12 Championships was getting some points from the novice eight. It was a race that cost them during the 2010 season. The Cardinal fielded a novice eight for the first time in 2014 and the nine boat members rowed together just one time prior to Sunday's race.

Apparently that was all they needed as their bronze finish jumpstarted the team and was an excellent result for the Cardinal.

Early on in the race Stanford was in fourth place, but in the second 500 meters was able to overtake Cal for third. They were able to hold their position the rest of the way, coming in 1.2 seconds ahead of the Golden Bears with a time of 7:01.6 for the first 2.5 points of the morning.

"Our novice eight had done one 8k practice row together," said Martschenko. "To see them go down the course gave us so much adrenaline."

After the boost from the novice eight, the more experienced Stanford boats started adding fuel to the fire. The varsity four has been one of the top fours in the nation all year long and put together another fantastic finish.

They jumped out to an early lead with the fastest split in the opening 500 meters. They stretched their lead out as the race went on, fending off Washington's second half push, to win by 3.9 seconds with a time of 7:13.20.

This was the first time the varsity four has won gold at the Pac-12 Championships under Farooq. The highest finish in her first seven years was fourth in 2010. The 1V4 now has seven wins on the season and are undefeated in the last five races.

Following the first two events, Stanford and Washington were tied with 9.5 points. The Pac-12 title race was heating up with the two eights left to hit the water.

The first 1,000 meters of the second varsity eight was about as close as it could get between UCLA and Stanford. The Bruins held the slightest of margins at 0.22 seconds after the first 500 and 0.33 seconds at the 1,000 mark. Just like the shirts the Cardinal 2V8 wore for practice on Saturday, this group was "Born 2V Wild" and started to walk in the second half of the race.

Stanford gained a 1.52 second lead over UCLA over the course of the next 500 meters and then sprinted home with the fastest final 500 meters to beat the Bruins by 2.9 seconds.

The Cardinal posted a 6:34.20 to capture a gold medal for the third time in the last five years. Stanford also won the 2V8 in 2010 and 2011. The fifth straight victory in 2014 gives the Cardinal seven overall wins.

The gold medal 2V8 race put Stanford in a comfortable spot, needing a third place finish or better from the varsity eight to bring home the championship. The varsity eight race ended up being the most exciting of the day with the top four teams separated by a total of only 4.1 seconds. The four seniors and the rest of the Stanford boat would not be denied.

Even though Stanford led from start to finish, the race was a battle. They were neck-and-neck with USC, Washington and Cal throughout the entire race. USC was even with the Cardinal in the first 1,000 meters.

Cal made its biggest push in the third quarter of the race and Washington sprinted home with the fastest final 500 meters. However, none of the moves the other teams made could catch the Cardinal as they clocked a 6:20.8 for first place. The Huskies were second with a 6:21.9, Cal took third in 6:22.5 and USC claimed fourth in 6:24.9.

"We went in knowing it would be a tough race and we kept it together," said senior Ali Fauci. "We powered through it at the end and I am just so proud of our team. From top to bottom we really relied on each other and it was an awesome turnout for everyone."

The varsity eight wore gold for the first time since 2009 when they set a Pac-12 record with a 6:18.6. It was the fifth victory in 2014 for the top boat as they are looking their best in May.

"It was a testament to the leadership of this team," said Farooq. "This team worked extremely hard this year and kept good perspective throughout. We knew we had a chance to win coming in, but the novice eight was a surprise. It was a fantastic effort by them. Then to pull off three wins in the three varsity events was a dream come true."

Stanford received an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships with the Pac-12 title. The Cardinal will have two weeks to prepare for a run at the national championship in Indianapolis, Ind. May 30-June 1.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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