When Jean Piette first arrived at Western Washington University as a freshman, she was just looking to remain active and involved in athletics.
She was given an opportunity to try a new sport — and a few months later was a national champion.
After four years of swimming and two years running track at Columbia River High School, Piette walked on to the NCAA Division II national power WWU rowing team.
She earned a position on the Vikings’ varsity eight boat, which was unbeaten as the team claimed its fifth consecutive NCAA-II championship on the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“I just wanted to do sports in college and I knew I was coming here, so I talked to the head coach here and he said it would be totally fine if I walked on,” Piette said. “So I walked on during the fall, and I made varsity that spring, so that was pretty cool.
“I was amazed I even stuck it out until the end of the year because we have practice at 5 every morning. I was like, ‘You know, I’ll see how it goes. I’m going to be tired every single day.’ But I really love it and it’s a lot of fun, so I stuck with it and it worked out for the better.”
Piette is the No. 5 rower in WWU’s varsity eight this year — the eight seats in the boat are counted from bow to stern, with the No. 8 position called the stroke seat and the coxswain seated in the stern.
The Vikings lead the field at this weekend’s Northwest Collegiate Rowing Conference championships on Vancouver Lake. WWU is five-time defending champion.
While Western has its sights perennially set higher, the conference event still matters.
“To me, every race is a big deal because we always like to do our best, but the main race that we’re all focused on is nationals,” Piette said. “In every race, we go our hardest and we want to do really well. So it is kind of a big deal.”
WWU is ranked No. 1 in the lates Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association/NCAA Division II poll, and the Vikings’ varsity eight has not lost to a non-Division I school since placing third at the 2006 NCRC Championships.
“I’m really excited to come back home, obviously,” Piette said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. ... I feel pretty comfortable and ready to definitely win, so we’ll see.”
Piette will be in the bow seat of the WWU varsity four Saturday, in addition to the varsity eight. The women’s varsity eight race is scheduled for 8:45 a.m., with the women’s varsity four at 2 p.m.
“The four is definitely harder to do because it’s not as stable as being in the eight, and we don’t practice the four very often,” Piette said. “Usually when we get out there and race the four, we’ve only practiced maybe one day beforehand. Getting out there, we’re not used to it, but we start racing and it all just kind of clicks in and we still manage to do really good. We work just as hard in the four as we do in the eight, but a race for the four takes about a minute longer than the eight, so it’s a little longer. That makes it harder. It’s the same distance, but it takes longer to do it.”
Collegiate rowing is a year-round commitment.
“We practice from the first day of school in the fall and we go all the way until two weeks before the end of the year,” Piette said. “We finish up with nationals. During the summer, we’re still training two times a day, so it’s basically year-round.”
NCAA Division II nationals this year are May 28-30 at Lake Natoma near Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Rowing is certainly a sport requiring extreme dedication.
“It’s mentally tough and physically tough at the same time,” Piette said. “Just waking up so early is really mentally exhausting, getting out there every morning and practicing for two hours — three hours on the weekend — and then having another hour or two-hour practice on our own during the day. We don’t row, but we do weights or some kind of card. So it’s physically tough, as well.”
WWU’s varsity eight won last year’s national championship by a full boat length. Four of the Vikings were freshmen, and only two were seniors.
“I feel like we’re better this year than last year,” Piette said. “We’re all improving a lot, and I feel like this year we’re stronger and faster and fitter, and I think we can do great things again. We’ll see.”
LCC’s Grenz honored
Lower Columbia College sophomore baseball infielder Aaron Grenz was among those recently honored for their academic achievements at the Washington All-Academic luncheon in Olympia. Grenz and other honorees were recognized and presented with medallions by Gov. Chris Gregoire and LCC president James McLaughlin.
Grenz placed on the LCC President’s List for fall quarter. On the field, the Ridgefield High School graduate earned all-NWAACC and Western Division first-team honors last season as a designated hitter after hitting .394 with 28 RBI as a freshman.
Another Lovell wins
Linfield College senior Jeremy Lovell claimed the decathlon title at the Northwest Conference Multi-Event Championships, held Monday and Tuesday in Forest Grove, Ore. The Columbia River High School graduate replicated the feat of his twin brother, Josh Lovell, who won the 2009 NWC decathlon crown.
Josh Lovell was sidelined with an injury and was not able to defend his title.
Jeremy Lovell cruised to the decathlon title with a score of 6,868 points.
The effort was a 180-point season-best and currently ranks as the third-best point total in NCAA Division III this season.
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