WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- The No. 1 nationally ranked Bates women's rowing team will compete for its second NCAA Championship in three years Saturday after the two varsity eights won their respective heats in wire-to-wire fashion Friday morning on Mercer Lake.
The second varsity eight's grand final is set for Saturday at 11:12 a.m. eastern time. The first varsity eight's grand final follows shortly after at 11:36 a.m.
"Two weeks without racing tends to get anxiety levels up," head coach Peter Steenstra said. "So it's nice to have good heats like that so they can really feel good about what they're doing. But if there's anything I've learned about this regatta is what happens in the heats does not always correlate to what happens in the finals. Anything could happen tomorrow and we are very aware of that."
Led by senior captain coxswain Abigail Bierman (Bethlehem, N.Y.) and junior stroke Grace Jurkovich (St. Paul, Minn.), the second varsity eight woke up bright and early on Friday to compete in the first heat of the day at the NCAA Championships. The action started at 8:12 a.m. and the Bobcats wasted no time taking command of their race.
Competing against Ithaca and Rochester Institute, Bates covered the first 500 meters in 1:39.969 and by the time the crews reached the 1,000-meter mark, the Bobcats held a seven-second lead.
Bates raced to the finish in 6:53.083, with Ithaca coming in second at 7:04.089.
The Bobcats and defending national champion Wellesley both earned spots in Saturday's second varsity eight grand final by winning their respective heats. The top two crews in Friday's second varsity eight "repechage" will also advance to the grand final.
The first varsity eight's heat featured Wellesley, Washington College and Pacific Lutheran. The race started at 8:36 a.m. and the Bobcats led by about eight seconds at the 1,500-meter mark before Wellesley gained some ground in the final 500 meters. Nonetheless, the Bobcats prevailed in 6:35.534 with the Blue coming in second with a time of 6:37.704.
The top two teams from each first varsity eight heat advance directly to the grand final. Bates will be joined on Saturday by Wellesley, Williams, Ithaca and the top two finishers in Friday afternoon's first varsity eight "repechage."
With the exception of Wesleyan and Pacific Lutheran (teams that qualified only one boat), the crews that qualify for Saturday's grand finals will earn points toward the team national championship. For example, winning the gold medal in the first varsity eight grand final earns a team 30 points while coming in second gets 27 points and so on. The winner of the second varsity eight grand final will receive 12 points, with second place receiving 10, etc. The team that has the most combined points between its two crews wins the national championship.
Last year, Bates came in second overall to Wellesley with 36 combined points to the Blue's 40.
The Bobcats are looking for their first gold medal in the first varsity eight grand final and their second national championship.
Bates won the national championship in 2015 behind a second place finish from the first varsity eight and a first place finish from the second varsity eight.