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Originally published May 3, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified May 5, 2012 at 11:02 AM

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Washington men favored to win sixth straight Windermere Cup

Washington's men's crew, ranked No. 1 nationally, will compete against the Argentina national team, Oregon State and Virginia in the 26th annual Windermere Cup on Saturday. The UW women will race against Argentina and Gonzaga.

Special to The Seattle Times

If you go

What: The 26th annual Windermere Cup crew races.

Who: More than 700 rowers will compete in 23 races. In the men's Windermere Cup, Washington's varsity eight will compete against Oregon State, Virginia and the Argentina national team. In the women's Windermere Cup, UW will face Gonzaga and Argentina.

When: The first race is scheduled for 10:20 a.m. The women's Windermere Cup will start at 11:35 a.m., the men's Windermere Cup at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Races are on the Montlake Cut.

After the races: The event is part of the celebration of Opening Day of boating season and will be followed by the Opening Day Boat Parade.

Opening Day staging area

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Frank Biller, coach of the 20th-ranked Virginia men's rowing team, understands his crew's role in Saturday's 26th annual Windermere Cup on Montlake Cut.

"We're looking forward to thoroughly test our championship lineup this Saturday and see by how much we get our butts kicked by UW," Biller, a native of Switzerland, said at Wednesday's news conference.

Biller's straightforward assessment drew a big laugh, but he wasn't kidding: Washington, the nation's top-ranked men's crew, is expected to give UW its sixth straight Windermere Cup win and 10th in the past 11 years.

A 23-race program starts at 10:20 a.m. and ends with the Windermere Cup races: women at 11:35, men at 11:45.

The UW men's varsity eight will face members of the Argentina national team, 19th-ranked Oregon State and Virginia. The sixth-ranked UW women's varsity will row against Argentina and Gonzaga. A crew from the University of Otago (on New Zealand's South Island) will row with UW, Western Washington and Gonzaga in the Cascade Cup, the women's second varsity race.

The UW men — defending Intercollegiate Rowing Association champions; winners of three of the past five IRA titles — have been fast all season.

The Huskies topped Brown (currently ranked No. 3) in the opener March 31 by nearly six seconds, and two weeks ago blitzed California (now No. 4) by 10 seconds.

Washington men's coach Michael Callahan says everything clicked at Cal.

"When you race a big rival you really get up for it," he said. "There was this moment right before the race when the guys asked me if I was nervous. I said, 'No, but I'm really fired up.'

"All of a sudden all the tension went away and we all realized we wanted to be there at that moment. Sometimes everything gets all in alignment and you have a great race. We really performed well."

Callahan says the fast start has not made the Huskies too confident too early. He recalled UW's heavily favored 2010 crew was upset in the IRA Grand Final that year.

"I told everyone (on this year's varsity eight) that we really need to respect the process of hard work, getting better and being good teammates," he said. "You might want the last race to be here right now, but there's a lot of time between now and then. Margins always close down in the championship season, when everyone is pulling each other along. We're optimistic, but very cautious. We remember the lessons we learned two years ago."

A showdown with second-ranked Harvard looms at this year's IRAs May 31-June 2 in New Jersey.

Notes

• The Cup is the last race for UW's men and women before the Pac-12 Championships on May 13 at Lake Natoma, near Sacramento. The women were ranked second when they lost to Cal by seven seconds two weeks ago. Since then coach Bob Ernst says he has switched the stroke and Seat 2 positions.

"I was really disappointed," Ernst said of the outcome at Cal. "Two of their best rowers weren't in the boat when we faced them in San Diego (in early April). They put those people in at the dual race and they got ahead of us right away. The rest of the race was just like a house of cards. One of the biggest growing pains for us is developing a little bit more race savvy and more confidence in what we're doing. It'll be interesting to see when that comes."

• For the Cup UW will row a new, Everett-made Pocock shell named the William Peter Allen, which honors the 21-year-old UW rower from Puyallup who died in September in a fall while scrambling on Kaleetna Peak near Snoqualmie Pass. Callahan said UW rowers will also be wearing uniform patches in memory of Allen. (UW customarily rows a German-made Empacher shell.)

• How good is Argentina? Argentina coach Hector Herenu said many of his key rowers are in Europe preparing for World Cup competition. "We've been trying to figure out who's in their lineup," said Callahan, noting Argentina finished just one second behind the U.S. eight-man boat at last summer's Pan Am Games. "It's kind of good not knowing who they brought; it keeps us on our toes. I'll be doing some research."

• Admission is free, with viewing along the shores of the Montlake Cut. The Montlake bridge over the Cut will be closed to vehicles from approximately 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Callahan says Saturday's varsity eight lineup will be the same that faced Cal. Five members of UW's boat will make their Windermere V8 debuts. "We get a championship level of excitement at this race without having to go to a championship," Callahan said. "This atmosphere helps us learn to manage distractions and stay focused on the matter at hand."

• Recent international visitors to the Cup: Cambridge (2011), Oxford (2010) and Brazil (2009). Russia edged UW for the title in 2006, the only time in the past 10 years the UW men did not win the Cup. The women have also won five straight Cups, last losing to Russia in 2006.

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