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Originally published Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 7:14 PM

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Washington varsity eight places sixth, Huskies seventh overall

Washington's ascent back to the top of the women's crew world isn't complete, but the three-day NCAA rowing championships continued to breed...

Special to The Seattle Times

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WEST WINDSOR, N.J. — Washington's ascent back to the top of the women's crew world isn't complete, but the three-day NCAA rowing championships continued to breed optimism.

The Huskies made their first appearance in four years in the varsity eights Grand Final, reserved for the top six schools in the nation. Despite a sixth-place finish, they left Lake Mercer on Sunday feeling very good about their growth, and optimistic about its future.

"I think the programs that finished ahead of us have a good foundation, and I think we're going to look like a different team next year," said Washington coach Bob Ernst, who is looking for his first title in his second stint as the women's coach. "I'm really proud of this bunch. We didn't exceed my expectations and we could have gone a few more places this way or that way, but I think they're making good progress.

"Our future is looking really, really bright. A year from today, you're going to see a much better performance, I think."

Virginia won the eights grand final in 6 minutes, 18.72 seconds, which catapulted the Cavaliers to a national title in the team category as well with 87 points. Michigan (82) and California (78) rounded out the podium, and Washington (62) finished seventh.

But it was Washington's ability to reach the event's final race that bred the optimism of re-establishing its program to the national level it enjoyed in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s.

"I know at the beginning of the season we wanted to get to the grand final," said Erin Lauber, senior three-seat and Edmonds-Woodway High product. "In those terms, we accomplished a lot. But I think it also left a lot for the younger girls to have within their grasp and go for next year. I know you can say it's only sixth in the grand final, but I think it's huge strides to where we came from my freshman year. This is the first grand final I raced in."

The Huskies' time of 6:29.11 was nearly 11 seconds slower than its Saturday semifinal race (6:18.30), but the conditions were much different.

A thick humidity filled the air and a late-morning thunderstorm cleared the lake and forced a 55-minute delay for the final.

"We got sent to our van and we hung out in there," junior coxswain Kelsey Jackson said. "We listened to music. We tried to make a music video, but we ran out of time."

From the outset of the 2,000-meter grand final, Virginia proved to be dominant while the Huskies tried to overcome a slow start.

But what had the Huskies glowing about the future was a strong showing a relatively young boat, a stark contrast to Virginia's senior-laden winning boat.

"I think we all learned a lot about how to race, and how to race hard and this is a big competition," Jackson said. "Everyone is under a lot of pressure. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Especially after the first race, (there was a lesson of) learning to stay calm and have our best peace."

Between the Cavaliers' winning boat and Washington's sixth-place finish were Michigan, USC, Princeton and California.

Washington last won the team title in 2001 and the varsity eight title in 2002. For Ernst, he was ready to eschew the cross-country trip home and get ready for next season.

"It's getting really close," Ernst said. "I was wondering how long it would take to win the championship. I was hoping I could do it in three or four years, and this is the fifth year and we're a ways off yet. It took me 10 years to win the national championship when I took the guys over. I really don't want to wait that long."


• A run of seven straight national titles ended for Western Washington, with the Vikings placing second in NCAA Division II. The Vikings, whose run matched the longest in any NCAA rowing division, finished with 13 points. Humboldt State, which won both the four and eight grand finals, took the team title with 20 points.

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