May 20, 2008
PULLMAN - There was a roar of cheers and a few tears of joy shed Tuesday as the fourth-ranked Washington State women's rowing team learned it would have the opportunity to return to the NCAA Championship after last year's absence.
The event will be held May 30 through June 1 at Lake Natoma, the very same venue the Cougars took third place at during last week's Pacific-10 Championships. Pac-10 rival California will serve as host for the event.
Eleven other teams were selected as well as four at-large varsity eight boats. Of the 12 teams selected, three are from the Pacific-10 Conference and are all also ranked in the top 15 of the CRCA/US Rowing poll. No. 1 California received an automatic bid to the championships after winning at the Pacific-10 Conference Championships while No. 4 Washington State and No. 15 University of Washington were selected by a committee to compete based on several criteria. No. 10 Stanford and No. 12 USC each received an at-large bid putting the total Pac-10 varsity eight count at five.
The last time the Cougars went to the NCAA Championship was in 2006 after a second place finish at the Pacific-10 Championships. WSU went into Nationals ranked third in the nation, the highest ranking in school history, and finished the event fourth as a team.
Senior coxswain Kelly O'Brien was there in 2006 and will be an influential team leader with her championship experience as well as familiarity with the course at Lake Natoma that is like a second home course for the Bay Area native.
"We spend a lot of time down there [Lake Natoma], we go to winter camp down there once a week every year," O'Brien said. "It puts us at ease a little more and we don't have to worry about as many logistics because we've all been there for Pacific-10 Championships and winter camp."
As her team was selected head coach Jane LaRiviere didn't cheer or jump up and down, but instead let out a sigh of relief.
"I was pretty sure we were going to get an at-large bid, but didn't know if we would get to go as a full team," LaRivere said. "I was optimistic and it didn't seem like a long shot to me [that we would receive a team selection]."
Washington State has set some high expectations for itself as O'Brien said, "The goal is that if we're going to Nationals, we're going for a team trophy. We can't not have that goal in mind."
LaRiviere knows what it will take for her team to reach that goal.
"It's a new ball of wax so it's a new game now," LaRiviere said. "We will have to go faster. If we go the same speed we will end up at the bottom end of the bracket."
The Cougars have reached the NCAA Championships three times as a team, in 2003, 2004 and 2006 finishing 12th, ninth and fourth respectively. The varsity eight received an at-large bid in 2002, and finished 13th.
For championship information and results, go to the NCAA Web site at www.ncaa.com.
The 2008 CBS Sports Presents Championships of the NCAA (spring seasonal show) will air at 11 a.m. PT Sunday, June 22 on CBS.