Aggies Row To Second Consecutive NCAA Division II Championship

UC Davis won its second straight NCAA Championship on Sunday morning. <br> (Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)
 
UC Davis won its second straight NCAA Championship on Sunday morning.
(Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)
 
UC Davis captured wins in both varsity four and varsity eights grand finals on Sunday morning at Eagle Creek Reservoir, delivering the Aggies their second consecutive NCAA Division II Women's Rowing Championship and closing the Division II era of UC Davis Athletics in winning fashion.

The Aggies, who won the inaugural Division II rowing title last season - also at Eagle Creek Reservoir - earned the maximum 20 team points at this year's championship. UC Davis posted a winning time of 7 minutes, 47.03 seconds in the varsity four race and followed later with a time of 6:51.74 in the title-clinching varsity eight.

Western Washington finished second in both races as well as for the team championship, scoring 15 points. Mercyhurst (Pa.) was third in the team standings with 10 points and Florida Tech finished fourth with five.

"This is a great way to finish (Division II)," said UC Davis coach Emily Plesser. "If you have to go out, this is the way to do it."

The Division II championship consisted of the four teams competing in both varsity eight and four events, with the overall team title based upon combined finishes in the two events. Additionally, Humboldt State and Rollins (Fla.) College competed in the varsity eight event but were ineligible for the overall team title.

UC Davis opened Sunday with a 12-second win over Western Washington in the varsity four grand final, earning eight points toward the team title, then secured the championship with 12 more points after winning the varsity eight grand final by nearly five seconds.

UC Davis, which won both of its preliminary heats on Friday to earn spots in Sunday's grand finals, led Western Washington by less than a second after 500 meters of their 2,000-meter varsity four race.

The Aggies, however, were nearly four seconds faster over the next 500 meters and led by almost six seconds midway after posting a time of 3:45.85. UC Davis added about three seconds in each of its last two quarters of racing, winning the race in 7:47.03. Western Washington finished in 7:59.42, while Mercyhurst was third in 8:11.83.

Rowing in the Aggies' victorious fours boat were Laura Syms, Sarah Anderson, Joan Silva, Dawn Leppert and coxswain Michelle Seymour.

A varsity eight victory by Western Washington - which did beat UC Davis earlier this season before the Aggies returned the favor later - would've given the overall team title to the Vikings. However, UC Davis stretched a lead that was less than a second after 500 meters to three seconds midway, and then nearly six seconds heading into the final piece.

The Vikings closed slightly over the final 500 meters, finishing in 6:56.60, behind the Aggies' winning time of 6:51.74. Humboldt State was third in 7:00.58, while Mercyhurst was fourth in 7:11.03.

"There's some rivalry there," said Plesser about Western Washington. "They've whipped us a couple of times the past couple of years and we've been able to come back and get them." Rowing for UC Davis in its winning varsity eight were Kari Harris, Ashley Montross, Becky Anderson, Kalie Benson, Brooke Fornaciari, Shelley Best, Kerry Byrne, Cassie Drotman and coxswain Katie Borg.

The national championships in both the varsity eight and four events give the Aggies four event titles in the past two years after winning both the first varsity eight and second varsity eight races at last year's regatta. The format of the championship changed this season with the elimination of the second varsity eight event and the addition of the varsity four.

After racing on Sunday, the Aggie team visited the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis, getting the opportunity to see its 2002 championship banner.

"That was one of the highlights of our trip and to know (we'd) be up there another year was also great," said Plesser.

This year marked the second year of the NCAA Division II Women's Rowing Championship. Until last season, the NCAA conducted just one championship covering all three divisions. UC Davis advanced to the national championships as an at-large participant in the varsity eight in 1997, 1999 and 2000 with its best finish coming in 2000 when it finished 16th overall but as the top non-Division I boat.

The Aggies' participation this weekend marks the final NCAA Division II Championship for UC Davis Athletics. The university announced in March it will begin reclassification to Division I beginning this fall.

UC Davis is leaving Division II in tremendous fashion after winning NCAA Championships the past two weeks in softball and rowing, finishing fourth nationally in men's track and field, and tying for fifth in baseball. Additionally, golf placed ninth, women's track was 15th and both men's and women's tennis qualified for NCAA Championship competition.

The Aggies conclude Division II having won eight NCAA Championships, including three in the past two seasons.