EVERETT — The University of Washington men’s rowing team is arguably the best collegiate program in the nation. The Huskies won the Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s national championship in varsity eights in seven of the past 10 years, including a record five straight from 2011-15.
So when a rowing association sends just one rower to the UW it’s a big deal. This year the Everett Rowing Association is sending four.
The quartet of Chase Barrows, Chandler Kovacevich, Cameron Helgerson and Ethan Grice is headed to Washington in the fall to row for the Huskies, illustrating just how special this year’s senior class is at Everett Rowing.
Everett has a history of placing rowers in college programs. This year, in addition to those headed to UW, there are four seniors who have signed to row with women’s programs, those being Arlington’s Jordan Kraski (Louisville) and Madison Elsner (Sacramento State), Lakewood’s Amanda Brown (Old Dominion) and Kamiak’s Emma Papenhausen (Portland).
Then there’s the four headed to Washington. Everett has sent rowers to UW’s men’s program in the past, but none since 2012 when Sam Helms and Philip Walczak became Huskies. Helms and Walczak won national titles as part of Washington’s varsity four in 2016. The new Husky recruits mean Everett will have a chance at more alumni accolades.
“I’m proud of the guys, I’m proud of our program,” Everett executive director Padraic McGovern said. “For us to have a presence down there is really awesome. It’s been an honor to watch them and help them along in the process of getting them to where we are.”
Barrows, Kovacevich, Helgerson and Grice all have much in common. All four have the tall and slender body type that makes for ideal rowers, and all four considered Washington their dream college since long before signing with the Huskies.
However, their paths to becoming strong enough rowers to warrant attention from UW were different.
Barrows and Helgerson are the veteran rowers. Both have rowed with Everett throughout their high school careers, both have been members of Everett’s varsity eight boat for multiple years and both are even former world record holders. Barrows, who attends Archbishop Murphy, set the indoor rower marathon record for his age group in 2015, while Helgerson, who attends Jackson, set the 100-meter slide machine record for his age group in 2016.
Therefore, both had long eyed Washington as the rowing school of choice.
“It’s kind of always been in the back of my mind,” Barrows said about rowing for UW. “I talked to the Naval Academy the most, but definitely this was in the back of my mind, and when it became an actual possibility I pursued it more so.”
For Helgerson there was the added push from family.
“I am actually a legacy rower for the University of Washington now,” Helgerson said. “My grandpa rowed for the University of Washington, my dad rowed for the U, my uncle rowed for the U, my brother rows for the U right now. So I was born and raised a Husky, and it kind of would have been a disappointment if I wasn’t. It’s kind of been my idol school and I worked toward that.”
Meanwhile, Kovacevich and Grice come from a different angle. Both are relatively new to the sport, having not gotten serious about it until their junior years after playing other sports.
“I knew basketball and tennis, I wouldn’t be able to (go to) college for those,” said Kovacevich, who goes to Monroe. “I still play basketball — I did for my high school during the winter — but I still worked out for rowing as well. I decided to go to rowing because I knew I would have a better chance.”
Even if it took a while for them to warm to the sport.
“I hated it at first. It was a brutal sport,” said Grice, who attends Everett High School. “But I liked the community that Everett Rowing has, and the friendships I built in one season alone were so much stronger than the friendships I had built in other sports. That really kept me coming back, and then I finally developed a passion for the sport and how it works.”
Going to one of the best colleges for rowing is an accomplishment in its own right for Barrows, Kovacevich, Helgerson and Grice. Doing so as a group makes it all the better.
“That’s the best part of it,” Grice said. “They’re like my best friends, in the sport and out of the sport as well. So to go off to a new environment with your best friends, it’s a new adventure, but you’re going to feel safe when you go off. I think it builds a confidence level when you get there, so you’re not shaking in your boots when you get to the bigger levels.”
The 2016-17 season is the first time all four have been a part of the same boat. But now that they are they hope to qualify for nationals on June 8-11 in Sarasota, Fla.
And perhaps it will be a preview of what’s to come at the University of Washington.
If you have an idea for a community sports story, e-mail Nick Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.