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Washington vs. Cal crew showdown is double dip of No. 1 vs. No. 2

The Husky women have risen to No. 1 in Yazmin Farooq’s first season as coach.

Outside of national-championship regattas, collegiate rowing will not likely stage a more meaningful showdown this season than the one scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. on Montlake Cut.

History. Prestige. Honor. Probably some smack talk, too. It all blends into the flow of the tradition-heavy Washington vs. California dual, the Ohio State-Michigan of rowing, now in its 106th year on the men’s side.

Beneath its aristocratic veneer, the event hums with competitive intensity, and this year’s gathering gets an added jolt of historical significance: For the first time since women’s racing was added in 1977, the dual features the nation’s No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the men’s and women’s polls.

Washington’s website is prodding football fans planning to attend the Huskies spring football game at noon to come early, jam the banks of the Cut and make a ruckus. Yasmin Farooq, first-year coach of UW’s No. 1-rated women’s team, predicts the talent level and amped vibe of this eight-race card will be worth witnessing.

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“A lot of races could come down to the final 500 meters,” said Farooq, who coached Stanford’s women for 10 years and won an NCAA title (2009) before being hired at UW in June. “Some will even come down to the final strokes. Anyone who has ever thought about coming down to see racing, this is the year to do it.”

The year is off to an impressive start for Farooq and the UW women. After finishing fifth in June’s NCAA championships (won by Cal), the Huskies opened the season in early April by sweeping then-No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and No. 7 Virginia (four races each) at the Pac-12 Challenge at Redwood Shores, Calif. The wins, plus a few losses at the same event by a couple of Cal’s secondary boats, vaulted UW to No. 1.

What has sparked UW’s swift ascent? “The team I inherited was very motivated,” Farooq said. “I feel fortunate that they’ve been so trusting, because we’ve asked them to do a lot of things very differently than what they did before.”

Such as?

“There are a lot of ways to go fast, but they’ve certainly put in more mileage than ever before,” she said. “They used to do more intensity. Now they do more volume.”

Farooq trains her rowers twice a day, arranging flexible schedules for athletes and benefiting from having an on-campus shellhouse. At Stanford, her rowers commuted 20 minutes one way to their training site.

“One of the biggest things for our rowers was the time commitment,” she said. “Everybody knew they were in for two workouts per day. The practices are super-efficient, but the amount of time they spend on the water is greater than before. But I think they saw how quickly they were improving, and they embraced it.

“They’re an extremely fit team,” Farooq said, “and this…

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