It wasn”t the Big Ten Championships, but it might as well have been.

The Michigan women”s crew team found its toughest competition in Iowa and Ohio State at the Central Region Championships, just as it was at the conference tournament. And just like in the Big Tens, the second-ranked Wolverines finished on top.

Michigan won all five of its races yesterday to cruise to first place at the regionals in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

“We had some really good races,” coach Mark Rothstein said. “I was pleased with all the crews.”

The Wolverines do not receive an automatic bid for the NCAAs, but have all but guaranteed themselves a spot in the Championships in Gainsville, Ga. from May 24-26. Michigan has finished fifth in the NCAAs the past three years.

In Michigan”s four varsity races, Ohio State and Iowa finished second and third, reminding the Wolverines of the Big Ten Championships.

“Some of the races (at the Big Tens) were pretty tight,” senior Melanie Duncan said. “We were waiting for them to get faster. I guess that means we got faster, too.”

The first varsity eight, second varsity eight and first varsity four boats continued their undefeated seasons for Michigan by winning their Grand Finals yesterday. They have combined to win 28 races in the 2001 season.

Michigan clinched victory with the first varsity eight boat when the Wolverines won by just under three seconds ahead of Ohio State in its closest race of the day. The race resembled the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago when Michigan edged out the Buckeyes.

The first varsity eight won despite missing senior Kate Johnson, who received the team”s Athlete of the Year award for the third consecutive season after the Big Tens.

Johnson also was named the Big Ten women”s rowing Athlete of the Year two weeks ago. Rothstein won the conference”s Coach of the Year award.

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