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Originally published Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Three UW crews make NCAA semifinals

All three of the Huskies entries qualified for Saturday's semifinals of the NCAA womens rowing championships on the Cooper River.

Special to the Seattle Times

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CHERRY HILL, N.J. — After seeing his varsity eight boat handed another convincing, open-water defeat by Pac-10 power Stanford in the first day of qualifying Friday, University of Washington womens rowing coach Bob Ernst tried focusing on something more positive.

Like the fact that all three of the Huskies entries qualified for Saturday's semifinals of the NCAA womens rowing championships on the Cooper River.

"I look at it like the Final Four tournament," Ernst said after watching his varsity eight, second varsity eight and varsity four boats clinch berths in today's semifinals. "Were still alive and were still playing."

The challenge confronting the Huskies on Saturday is advancing all three boats into Sundays grand finals.

"The probability of winning a national championship if you dont get all three boats in the final is practically zero," Ernst said. "We accomplished our mission, but well need to make a bigger step [Saturday] because the quality of racing here is phenomenal."

On a cool, overcast morning, Stanford and California proved that on Friday, easily winning their heats. Stanford, which narrowly defeated Cal in the Pac-10 Championships on May 17, recorded the day's best time on 2,000-meter course — 6 minutes, 27.60 seconds. Cal was next at 6:29.40, followed by Virginia, which won its heat in 6:29.51.

Washington finished third in its heat, edging fourth-place Harvard by just two-tenths of a second in 6:34.60, 7 seconds behind Cal.

"Our first 800 meters were really strong and fluid," said junior Adrienne Martelli of University Place, who walked on at UW after playing basketball at Curtis High School. "We struggled to keep the rate up after 1,000 meters and we went into our sprint a little earlier than normal."

The Huskies' sprint, which began with about 600 meters remaining, was enough to overtake Harvard, but not nearly enough to put a dent in Stanford's lead.

"They have a few Olympians on that boat and theyll be tough to beat," said Jennifer Park, a junior from Woodinville. "Well, obviously have to row our best races this weekend."

Riding along the banks of the Cooper River on his replacement bicycle — "Blue Thunder was stolen at the Pac-10 Championships, so I replaced it with Better Red Than Dead," Ernst said — the UW women's coach rediscovered what he had already suspected. It will take a Herculean effort for his Huskies to close the gap on Stanford and Cal.

"I think we can go a little faster," he said. "But Im not going to say we can drop five seconds. That might be asking too much."

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Led by Martelli and Park, each of whom have been selected to attend the U.S. Under-23 selection camp, Washington's varsity eight is just now recognizing its potential. Loa Prins of Walla Walla and Kim Kennedy of Calgary, Alberta, are the only seniors, and by this time next year, Maretelli said she hopes the Huskies will have closed the gap on Stanford considerably.

"I can see the progress were making," she said, "and although we all want to do well this weekend, Im already looking forward to my last year."

Notes

• Joining Washington in Saturdays varsity eight semifinal will be Stanford, Yale, California, Brown, Michigan State, Virginia, Princeton and Clemson.

• Washington also placed its second varsity eight boat in Saturdays semifinals, as well as its varsity four entry.

• Western Washington also qualified for Saturday's Division II semifinals by winning its heat in a time of 7:01.72.

• Seattle Pacific finished second in its heat to Mercyhurst in 7:02.35 but did not advance.

• Puget Sound's varsity eight earned the final spot in the Division III grand final with a time of 6:57.96.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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