WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Columbia women's rowing program made a strong push for its third consecutive championship at the George Washington Invitational Regatta by capturing nine of 10 races, and qualified to represent the United States in the first Potomac Challenge Cup.
   
The latter will be run Sunday, the second day of the regatta, between the top U.S. women's varsity eight, based on low aggregate times from Saturday's races, and the top foreign eight. Columbia, which won its two varsity eight races, over Navy and Georgetown, by an aggregate 17.4 seconds, qualified to meet Oxford University, victors over Canada's Brock University. The two will race Sunday morning at 11:50 a.m., followed by the men's competitors in the Potomac Challenge Cup.
   
Selection for the Challenge Cup capped a hectic Saturday for Columbia and the other schools. It actually began the day before, as preparations were made for staging the regatta with the hindrance of the anticipated national government shutdown. The boathouse which would house the regatta entrants' shells is on National Park property, and would have been closed.
   
As the congressional impasse continued into the wee hours Friday night, it was followed closely by the regatta organizers and colleges. But the well-publicized compromise settlement freed the regatta to go on as scheduled.
   
Columbia actually started the regatta off at 8:24 a.m. when it rowed against Navy in the Women's Varsity B Fours under threatening skies on the Potomac River. Columbia won handily, in 7:54.7 to Navy's 8:15.0. The Midshipmen bounced back to win the Varsity A Fours in 7:31.6 to Columbia's 7:37.0.
   
That would be the Lions' only loss of the entire day.
   
"We were strong and dominant," head coach Melanie Onufrieff said of the B Four's performance. In the A Fours, she said, "Navy was more ready than we were. But we learned. We were more fiery in the afternoon, against Georgetown. We had a good turnaround."
   
Columbia beat the Hoyas in the A Fours by 6.5 seconds, 7:37.5 to 7:44.0. After shuffling her lineups between morning and afternoon sessions, the Lion B came out and soundly defeated Georgetown's women's lightweight four, 7:45.0 to 8:01.2.
   
The Lions' second varsity eight rowed well in the morning, overcoming Navy by seven seconds, 6:56.1 to 7:03.4, but the afternoon race provided an obstacle to be overcome.
   
Early on in the race against Georgetown, Columbia's shell suffered a seat mishap, and came to a screeching halt. By the time they were able to regroup and start rowing again, the Hoyas had moved out to a full length lead.
   
Another crew might have given up, conceding the race to Georgetown, but Columbia would have none of that. "They showed tremendous poise," an impressed Onufrieff said. "They recovered and responded."
   
Respond they did. Never panicking or rushing their strokes, the Lion 2V's, stroked by senior co-captain Kasey Koopmans, slowly made their way back into contention. In the last 500 meters, Columbia had come up to the Hoyas. "In the last 500 meters," Onufrieff said, "they pulled even with Georgetown, and they just kept going."
   
Fighting their way back from a dead stop, the Lions crossed the finish line in 6:44.8 seconds, 3.5 seconds better than the Hoyas' 6:48.3, with the Georgetown lightweights trailing.
   
The varsity eights race, the final of both the morning and afternoon sessions, gave Columbia an opportunity to demonstrate its prowess.
   
The Lions rowed a solid if unspectacular race in the morning, beating Navy by an impressive 11 seconds, 6:44.1 to 6:55.1. Knowing that Georgetown would be ready for them in the afternoon, Columbia's varsity rowers responded.
   
"We were improved in the afternoon," Onufrieff said. "We rowed even better than we did against Navy." Columbia beat Georgetown by almost two lengths, 6:29.0 to 6:35.4. "We did a nice job," the coach said. "It earned the shot against Oxford."
   
The Oxford race, for the Potomac Challenge Cup, will cap a morning in which Columbia's other boats will meet those of St. Joseph's University.
   
The results:

The George Washington Invitational Regatta
Saturday, April 9, 2011 (Day One)
Potomac River, Washington, D.C.

Morning

Varsity Eights

1. Columbia, 6:44.1
2. Navy, 6:55.1

Second Varsity Eights
1. Columbia, 6:56.1
2. Navy, 7:03.4

Varsity Fours, A
1. Navy, 7:31.6
2. Columbia, 7:37.0

Varsity Fours, B
1. Columbia, 7:54.7
2. Navy, 8:15.0   

Afternoon

Varsity Eights
1. Columbia, 6:29.0
2. Georgetown, 6:35.4

Second Varsity Eights
1. Columbia, 6:44.8
2. Georgetown, 6:48.3
3. Georgetown lightweights, 7:02.5

Varsity Fours, A
1. Columbia, 7:37.5
2. Georgetown, 7:44.0

Varsity Fours, B
1. Columbia, 7:45.0
2. Georgetown lightweights, 8:01.2
     
Boatings at GW Invitational (Note: the order in some boats may have been changed for the afternoon session):


Varsity Eight
Stephanie Ngai, cox; Nikki Bourassa, stroke; McKenzie Largay, 7; Alex Hammerberg, 6; Katie Mitchell, 5; Lily Keane, 4; Meredith Mead, 3; Rebecca Randall, 2; Samantha Warren, bow

Second Varsity Eight
Shannon Sullivan, cox; Kasey Koopmans, stroke; Fiona Duffy, 7; Bailey Griswold, 6; Mary Nemeth, 5; Natalie Rutherford, 4; Lottie Galliano, 3; Kenzie Bess, 2; Luisa Isbell, bow

Varsity Four A
Gabrielle Barila, cox; Hilary Going, stroke; Alexandra Angelo, 3; Tamar Nisbett, 2; Karli McMenamin, bow

Varsity Four B
Jessica Geiger, cox; Jennifer Wukawitz, stroke; Jessica Werlin, 3; Louisa Mink, 2; Kellie Solowski, bow