May 13, 2012
LAKE NATOMA, Calif. -The top-ranked California women's rowing team stayed red hot, capturing its fifth straight Pac-12 Championship at the conference regatta Sunday at Lake Natoma in Gold River, Calif. The Golden Bears swept all four races for the first time ever at the conference meet, and now have not lost a single race since April 15.
Cal claimed the conference crown with 45.5 points. Washington finished second with 31 points.
"Obviously, today was a great day for our team," head coach Dave O'Neill said. "We knew we had a chance in all four events, and every boat raced very well. Winning each event seemed really unlikely after the [San Diego] Crew Classic, but that seems like it was years ago. I give everyone a ton of credit for staying focused and positive these last few weeks."
Despite entering the conference championships as the top-ranked squad in the country, Cal was definitely tested heading into the regatta. The Bears were squaring off against third-ranked USC, No. 7 UCLA, No. 8 Washington, No. 12 Stanford and No. 17 Washington State.
USC provided the toughest challenge for the Bears in the varsity eight race. Cal edged the Trojans, 6:30.3-6:32.7. Washington took third at 6:32.8. Beginning with the Lake Natoma Invitational, the Cal varsity eight boat has won its last six consecutive races.
"The varsity eight has been improving every week, and they were ready to have a good race," O'Neill said. "Since there are so many good crews, we knew it was going to be a hard-fought race. They had some equipment failure, but everyone dealt with it really well. We practice the race plan almost every day, so they can pretty much race on auto-pilot. Thankfully, they did."
The second varsity eight race saw Cal beat second-place Stanford by over three seconds, 6:39.3-6:42.7. O'Neill gave the JV some pre-race encouragement to pump them up even more
"I told the second varsity eight that if they won their event, we'd win the regatta and be conference champions," O'Neill said. "They fully embraced that challenge and had a fantastic race."
Another close finish came in the freshman eight race, as the Bears topped UCLA by two seconds, 6:47-6:49. Heading into the NCAA Championships, the Cal freshman eight boat has not lost a single race all season. The varsity four boat is also undefeated, but did not compete at the San Diego Crew Classic.
"The novice eight and four came in as the number one seeds, but we expected some tight competition," O'Neill said. "I'm impressed with how they raced being down in the first 500 and staying focused. They had a great year winning all their races against some against some tough competition; we consider them unofficial national champions. Lincoln LaRoe and Mary Jeghers did a terrific job every step of the way developing that crew."
The Cal varsity four defeated Washington by seven seconds, 7:13.9-7:20.8, to continue its perfect season.
"The four had their best start of the season and jumped out to a good lead," O'Neill said. "They're a fit crew, so they were able to extend that margin in the second half. Each individual has really stepped up this year, and they earned those medals. Sarah Puddicombe and Vanessa Tavalero have had that crew clicking from the outset, and they've had a huge impact on all crews."
Cal has next week off as it prepares for the 2012 NCAA Championships from May 25-27 in West Windsor, N.J. The Bears will head into the national regatta with some real momentum as the No. 1 team in the country, two undefeated boats and a varsity eight boat that is clicking on all cylinders right now. Still, O'Neill knows his team will have to be at its best if the Bears want to win their first NCAA title since 2006.
"We know the toughest test is ahead in New Jersey," O'Neill said. "We'll have a good week of training before heading east, and we'll be ready for NCAAs."
2012 Pac-12 Championships
Final Team Standings
Second Varsity Eight