By MITCHELL DALE
THE Coffs Coast master women's outrigger crew took another step towards a national championship on Saturday, successfully defending the title they won at their home regatta last year.
Pre-race expectations were that Coffs Coast's major challenge would come from Mooloolaba and Northern Beaches and that is exactly how the 15km race panned out.
Coffs Coast ? Karen Clarke, Gail Mills-Thom, Shona Walker, Kellie Reinhold, Kim Fuller and Andrea Polkinghorne ? grabbed the early lead, but Northern Beaches hammered their tail and drew level one kilometre into the race.
The local girls couldn't break clear until the four-kilometre mark, but were then able to steadily build their lead, eventually finishing 13 seconds ahead of Northern Beaches.
The depleted Mooloolaba crew crossed in third.
"Northern Beaches pressured us all the way, but we kept our focus and were up to the task," Polkinghorne said.
"After we pulled away, we gradually increased our lead, but I think Northern Beaches will be a big challenger this year."
The master women weren't the only Coffs Coast crew to pick up a podium finish.
The Coffs Coast open men's crew ? Tim Ginman, Matt O'Garey, Mick Ainsworth, Glenn Baynes, Gordon Polkinghorne and Kim Smith ? crossed the line in third place behind Cronulla and Port Hacking.
"We were happy enough with that," Baynes said.
"We were fifth at one stage but we put our heads down, got our rhythm back and pegged back to third.
"We won our first race (of the season) in Hervey Bay, so we expected to be first, second or third."
The weekend's Coffs Coast Cup was another step on the local crew's quest to become National champions at Penrith in May.
"Our ultimate aim is Nationals," Baynes said.
"This is our second year together as a team and we are starting to learn what everyone else is doing and we're getting used to paddling with each other.
"Our coach, Mike Mills-Thom, has told us we have the potential to win nationals if we knuckle down and do the hard work."
Coffs Coast also won the Under-16s division and finished second in the Under-14s.
In the teams challenge on Sunday, Coffs Coast claimed the open division and finished third in the master division.