College Notebook: Western Washington’s Piette, Vikings eight wants title back

Columbia River grad seeks to atone for runner-up finish

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Western Washington has won six consecutive NCAA Division II national championships in women’s crew.

For the first time during that domination, however, the Vikings’ varsity eight last year did not win its race at nationals.

A chink in the armor?

A sign of decline?

Um, not according to Jean Piette.

“After last year losing the varsity eight, I believe that this year we have so much more motivation to get back out there and show everyone what we’re made of,” the Columbia River High School graduate said. “We’ve really been working hard on the water and have a whole new mentality this year and a new race plan. I think it’s really going to work.

“I know the girls are excited and we’ve been working hard. I think (competitors) are going to be surprised at nationals this year.”

Western finished four seats behind Mercyhurst of Pennsylvania in the eight final on Lake Natoma at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center near Gold River, Calif.

Two years after going out for crew as a walk-on to keep active in college after four years of swimming and two years running track for the Chieftains and not knowing if she would stick it out for the whole season, Piette has become a confident veteran.

“I’m a lot more confident in myself,” said the junior, who rows in the No. 6 seat in WWU’s boat. “I feel like I know what I’m doing when I get out there and race. I’m not quite as nervous. I’m prepared. I feel like now I can give advice to the younger freshmen and sophomores, because I’m comfortable out there, I know what I’m doing, and it just comes naturally to me.”

Seven of the nine positions on the boat — eight rowers plus the coxswain — return from last season as the Vikings focus on a return to the top in the premier event.

The Vikings won at the season-opening Daffodil Cup Regatta on American Lake near Tacoma, finishing more than six seconds ahead of Puget Sound in a seven-boat field.

Saturday at Vancouver Lake, WWU finished two boat lengths ahead of Seattle Pacific at the Northwest Collegiate Rowing Conference Invitational Regatta.

“I feel great — just ready to go out there and win,” Piette said. “I think our boat this year is faster than it was last year, and I’m really excited to just see what we can do. ... Things are going good so far. We’ve won all of our races. Our first race this season, we went out and destroyed (Seattle Pacific) and Puget Sound, so that was good. Last week, winning again was another big boost for our confidence, and I think that’s what we need.”

Piette enjoyed having support of friends and family on shore.

“It was fun,” she said. “I always like coming home.I had my family and friends there, so it was good to have them watching.”

Boats were battling a headwind on Vancouver Lake, but Piette said that can only help Western prepare for windy conditions later in the year.

Western’s home race April 16 against Puget Sound and Gonzaga on Lake Samish is next on a schedule that also features the Opening Day Regatta of the Windermere Cup on Seattle’s Montlake Cut.

Nationals are May 27-29, once again on Lake Natoma in California, where Vikings plan to reclaim their legacy.

“I think everyone wants us to lose,” Piette said. “We just want to prove to everyone that we can win, and that no one is going to take this title from us.”

Concordia’s Dixson honored by CCC

Concordia University sophomore Gabi Dixson was named Cascade Collegiate Conference Women’s Outdoor Field Athlete of the Week for the second week in a row.

Competing over the weekend in the Willamette Invite, Dixson — a homeschool graduate who competed for Battle Ground High School — posted the NAIA’s top mark in both the shot and the discus.

Her discus mark is four feet better than the No. 2-ranked athlete, while her shot mark is No. 1 overall by 5¾ inches. Dixson’s hammer mark was just five feet off her season best, which rests at No. 7 in the NAIA. Dixson has reached the NAIA “A” standard in all three events.

Dixson also earned Women’s Outdoor Field Athlete of the Week last week. She previously earned Women’s Indoor Field Athlete of the Week twice this year.

Bobbe sets WSU freshman records

Washington State distance runner Sarah Bobbe set school freshman records in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters during the indoor track and field season.

The Columbia River High School graduate ran the 5,000 in a time of 17 minutes, 11.72 seconds at the Husky Classic meet Feb. 11 in Seattle.

At the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships — also hosted by the University of Washington — on March 4, Bobbe placed 16th in the 3,000 with a WSU freshman record time of 9:48.91.

Bobbe was the Cougars’ third finisher (58th overall) at the Pacific-10 Conference cross country championships in the fall, but was unable to compete in the NCAA West Regional because of illness.

Suggestions for College Notebook? Contact Kurt Zimmer at 360-735-4563 or by e-mail at kurt.zimmer@columbian.com