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Originally published Saturday, June 4, 2011 at 11:26 AM

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Huskies take back national crew title

A year after losing the Intercollegiate Rowing Association title to Cal by the blink of an eye, the Huskies' varsity eight boat blew away the field Saturday, winning a national title for the third time in five years.

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CAMDEN, N.J. — For 364 days, the Washington Huskies had to live with the pain of losing a national rowing championship to California by a couple tenths of a second.

Coach Mike Callahan knew the possibility existed for that pain to last a lot longer.

"He told us we're going to take this race — however it ends up — to our grave," junior coxswain Sam Ojserkis said. "To the very last day we live."

Thanks to Saturday's convincing victory over Harvard and California in the 109th Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships, Washington's varsity eight crew can now, quite literally, rest in peace.

"I think we all feel like we've exorcised some demons," senior oarsman Ty Otto said. "It's good to be on top now."

The Huskies' dominance was not limited to the day's final race. Washington also won gold in the men's open four, the varsity four and the second varsity eight to capture its fifth straight Jim Ten Eyck Memorial Trophy, awarded to the team that amasses the most points. It is the first time any crew team has won five straight IRA team titles.

"The varsity eight is your flagship and the ultimate barometer of how your program is running," Callahan said. "But I still believe in the Ten Eyck and I think it's important to Washington. I've said all year that if we can bring everything we have on the final day of the year, we're going to be hard to beat, and today we were."

After finishing second to Harvard in Friday's windy semifinal, Washington was given Lane 2 for Saturday's grand final, while the more favorable Lanes 4 and 5 went to Harvard and California.

Callahan had spent more than 90 minutes with Ojserkis the night before, mapping out a strategy that would combat California's fast starts while countering Harvard's powerful finishes.

Sure enough, Cal jumped out to an early lead, but Washington quickly caught the Golden Bears at about 300 meters.

"It was a bit of a surprise," Cal junior Jack Farthing said. "We were up on them and I don't know what happened after that."

Ojserkis said he called a push just before the midway mark of the 2,000-meter race, then cracked the whip with about 700 meters to go, knowing the Huskies would feel a strong push by Harvard.

"Our motto all season has been finish, finish, finish," Ojserkis said. "When we got a length up with 700 (meters) to go, I told the guys, 'Let's close this out. Let's finish this thing.' We didn't want a nail biter."

The Huskies crossed the finish line with a winning time of 5 minutes, 30.623 seconds, well ahead of second-place Harvard (5:33.302) and Cal (5:33.406).

"The nation's top three crews gave it all they had and Washington came out in front," Cal coach Mike Teti said. "The best team won, but who knows? If we raced again maybe we'd get a different result."

That race will have to wait until next year. For now, the Huskies sit atop the rowing world and will no longer have to wonder what might have been.

"I know how bad the seniors wanted it," said Ojserkis, soaking wet after a celebratory toss into the Cooper River. "If we're going to take this to our grave, I'm very glad it's going to be a happy memory and not a bad one."

Men's Varsity 8 championships
The last time UW won three titles in five years was during the 1937, '40, and '41 seasons. The Huskies also won the 1936 title, before earning the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics that summer.
Year IRA champion
2011 Washington
2010 California
2009 Washington
2008 Wisconsin
2007 Washington
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