She's one of the finest in the Northwest Conference

Lindsay Davis hadn't been at Willamette University long when a friend across the hall of her dormitory said she'd make a fine coxswain.

"I was like, 'OK. What's a coxswain?' " the junior recalled.

She quickly found out.

The 1997 Kalispell graduate learned it was a term associated with crew, and that the person who fills that position is no less than the eyes and brains behind the boat. Even more critical is that a coxswain has to meet weight specifications - less than 125 pounds for men and 110 for women - and should be small in stature since they sit in a small area in the stern. At 5-feet tall, the former soccer star for the Bravettes easily met the criteria.

"The coxswain is the person that dictates race strategy and steers the boat," Willamette coach Rod Mott said. "It's more of a cerebral position. You're kind of the coach on the water, keeping the others informed because they don't know what's going on. … A coxswain can win you races or lose you races."

Davis has helped build the young NAIA Division III program based at the private school in Salem, Ore., into one of the finest in the Northwest Conference and along the West Coast since she arrived there. The women won the NWC last season, and the men took it two years ago. She had a part in both.

While the larger universities have the luxury of making one individual responsible for one boat, Willamette has just four coxswains and eight boats. Davis mans the women's varsity four and the men's varsity eight. The double tug can be difficult, especially with the 5:30 a.m. practices.

"It's different dynamics completely, just the way the boats move," Davis said. "It's kind of hard on race day to make the transition. Mentally I get exhausted after the race, but it's interesting going from on team to the next."

Added Mott: "It's not ideal. We try to have a coxswain for each crew so they can specialize. … She's done well for herself, though. She's one of our key crew members."

Davis guided the women's varsity four to a big win two weekends ago at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships in Sacramento, Calif., a tourney for all the Division I and II crew teams on the West Coast. The varsity four cruised to its first-ever WIRA title, crossing the line 10 seconds ahead of everyone.

The men's varsity eight also had a solid showing, finishing ninth out of 12 teams in the finals.

Davis, an international studies major, said nothing she has ever competed in compares to crew.

"I think a lot of liking crew to me is just the incredible sense of team. That epitomizes crew," she said. "There's nothing you can do by yourself in the boat. Everyone is depending on everyone to do that same thing."

(Nikki Judovsky can be reached at 523-5265 or by e-mail at newsdesk@missoulian.com)

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