rowing

Rowing

Texas rowing completed its regular season in dominant fashion Saturday, winning all three of its dual races against the University of San Diego. 

A crowd of fans lined up along the footbridge underneath Mopac to watch the Longhorns compete on Lady Bird Lake in their only home regatta. Saturday’s regatta was also Texas’ last of the year before the Big 12 Championship on May 16–17.

In the varsity eight race, Texas jumped to an early lead and held on for the remainder of the 2,000 meters. The Longhorns finished 13 seconds ahead of the Toreros with a time of 6:30.4.

“I think we did a really good job of maintaining our lead and pulling out even further ahead,” senior captain Casey Redman said. “This win was just motivation to keep getting faster and keep working harder in practice. Every race has given us that extra push that we need to keep taking steps forward.”  

The second varsity eight crew also built upon a strong start to beat out the Toreros. The Longhorns finished in 6:40.9, nearly eight seconds better than San Diego’s time. 

“I think one of the biggest things I take from today is our second eight,” head coach Dave O’Neill said.  “We made some adjustments to the second eight and that second eight is better than it has been in the past. I think we have that one figured out.” 

The varsity four race was closer than either of the other two races, with Texas and San Diego neck and neck for most of the race until the Longhorns edged out the Toreros. Texas finished with a time of 7:19.1.

The Longhorns continue to work toward their goal of reaching the NCAA Championship. Saturday’s three races are the same races featured at the championship, and Texas will look to put on a strong showing at the Big 12 Championship in hopes of advancing to the national competition. However, O’Neill said even if his team fails to win the automatic bid by winning the Big 12 Championship, he believes Texas could still have a chance.

“I feel we’ve done well enough in the regular season already that even if we stumble at Big 12s, we still could get an at-large invite to the NCAA Championships,” O’Neill said. “I give our team a lot of credit. They’ve stepped up really well the last few weeks.”

— James Rodriguez

Track and field

As the semester comes to a close, the Texas track and field team is looking to ace the final test of the season.

At Mike A. Myers Stadium on Saturday, head coach Mario Sategna’s group swept both the men’s and women’s brackets at the Longhorn Invitational. The team excelled at the final meet before conference championships and other opportunities, picking up seven wins over the course of the day.

The men’s squad, which edged out Akron by 8 points, had three wins on the day. Sophomore hurdler Spencer Dunkerley-Offor posted the second-best time in the NCAA this season in the 110-meter hurdles. His wind-aided time of 13.54 seconds is his personal best and puts him in contention at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships in two weeks.

The women crushed the competition, beating second-place Akron by more than 80 points thanks to four victories. The 4x100-meter relay team of senior Morgan Snow, freshman Caitland Smith, junior Morolake Akinosun, and sophomore Kendall Baisden took the event with a time of 45.31 seconds. Snow and Baisden each nabbed individual titles as well, with Baisden taking the 100-meter dash and Snow besting the competition in the 100-meter hurdles.

Texas will now have two weeks to rest up before heading to Ames, Iowa, for the Big 12 Outdoor Championships from May 15–17.

— Bradley Maddox

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

From an early age, Latin American studies freshman Rachel Fleming knew she would be attending the The University of Texas. The daughter of two Texas graduates, she applied to only one school her senior year, having already decided upon a burnt orange future.

Fleming planned to study in UT’s top-notch Latin American studies program. However, there was one part of her college experience she never anticipated — becoming a Division I athlete.

Rowing, unlike most collegiate sports, often fields walk-ons at the Division I level. Every fall, members of the rowing team scour campus looking for potential rowers to recruit to the team.

While walk-ons often play integral roles in the top boats of many schools, making the varsity teams is difficult. Out of an initial pool of 60 walk-ons, Fleming is the only freshman walk-on currently rowing in one of the top-two boats.

“Rowing is very hard, and there’s a lot of expectations that go with it, but we’re also given a lot,” Fleming said. “And those to whom much is given, much is required. I knew that D-I athletes worked hard, and I knew that it was hard to do it, but getting to be a part of it has been so cool, and I feel blessed.”

After walking onto the rowing team in the fall, Fleming quickly rose through the ranks to earn a spot on the second varsity eight boat. But, initially, she had no interest in joining the team.

“I was walking through the West Mall, and one of the current teammates handed me a flyer and was like, ‘Come to our informational meeting about rowing,’ and I didn’t know anything about rowing so I told her, ‘No thanks, I don’t row,’ and I handed her back the flyer,” Fleming said. “But she insisted that I come, so I did.”

“Plain and simply, rowing is a physical sport with a skill element,” head coach Dave O’Neill said. “But rowing is a sport where, if you just want to work hard, and you can endure pain, and you can keep just grinding it out, we can teach you the skill. If they can just have the right physical makeup and learn the skill, they can take off.”

After learning the basics of rowing and focusing on fitness in the fall, Fleming spent the winter break training intensively in the hopes of making one of the top boats.

“When we left for winter break, coach Mara [Allen] and coach Danielle [Bartz] told us that there would be one walk-on that came back and was really, really strong and fit and would kill it, and I hoped to be that person,” Fleming said.

Fleming’s performance after the break earned her the opportunity to row in the second varsity eight boat at the San Diego Crew Classic. Her boat won first place at the regatta and was named the Big 12 Conference Boat of the Week.

“It was really cool for me, being new, but it was even cooler for me to watch how excited my teammates were because I knew they’ve been working for this for a long time,” Fleming said. “Watching just how happy they were when we crossed the finish line was unlike anything else.”

Fleming said the experience, while challenging, has been worth the sacrifices.

“The first time I got a Texas rowing t-shirt, I can’t even describe the feeling,” Fleming said. “It was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m actually doing this rowing thing because it’s something that I never would’ve thought I’d be doing.’”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Texas Sports

Seven years after she began rowing in high school, Texas rowing senior captain Casey Redman still wrestles with the self-doubt that creeps into her mind before each race. 

Although 2000m races still leave Redman exhausted, she said she finds comfort in her months of training and preparation.

“It’s all hard,” Redman said. “There’s nothing easy about it. You can’t breathe; your legs are on fire, and it’s over in six minutes, which, in terms of racing, is pretty long.”

Redman and the Longhorns have spent almost seven months training and preparing for their spring season. Their journey toward qualifying for the NCAA Championships will officially begin Saturday at the San Diego Crew Classic, where they will compete in their first regatta of the spring season. 

Unlike races in the fall, the results of the spring regattas will factor into the NCAA selection committee’s decisions for the at-large bids to the NCAA Championships. 

Should the Longhorns fall short of winning the Big 12 Championship and the automatic bid, their performance against other Division I schools in the spring will determine whether they make the cut in a selection process that is similar to that of the NCAA basketball tournament. 

“Those fall races — it’s all about preparing for the spring, and now this is what we’ve trained for,” head coach Dave O’Neill said. “The intensity has increased significantly: on the water, the workouts that we’re doing, the pressure on the athletes [and] the demands from the coaching staff. So yeah, things are really heating up.”

The Longhorns will compete in four events both Saturday and Sunday — the first varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity four and open eight. 

The team’s primary Division I competition will be UCLA, University of San Diego and USC — all teams that competed in the NCAA Championships last year. Despite the increased competition, O’Neill doesn’t want to devote any thought to the other schools.

“Rowing is different than basketball in that no one can put up a defense that controls what we do,” O’Neill said. “So if we do our race perfectly, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.”

O’Neill’s emphasis on ignoring opponents is clear during Saturday practices. The athletes race against each other in boats with opposing teams’ colors to mentally prepare.

“We’re pretty much just focused on us,” Redman said. “We kind of just call them other colors. It’s just like, ‘OK, we’re racing red; we’re racing blue; we’re racing purple.’ It’s all about us and what we can do and not what other people are bringing.”

The Longhorns’ schedule emphasizes self-improvement over competition. While some other schools begin their spring season in early February, O’Neill prefers to reserve that time for training and worry about competition later in the spring. 

“If we were to race somebody in February, like a real race, we would be sacrificing a weekend of training, and those February weekends — they’re precious,” O’Neill said. “It goes back to keeping the main thing the main thing and focusing on ourselves. If we go fast, no one can touch us.”

At 5 a.m. most mornings the Texas men’s rowing club can be found on the waters of Lady Bird Lake preparing for its upcoming meets. The club has provided freshman Aftab Kahn a place to workout and compete.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

It was a cloudy, warm morning when the Texas Club Rowing team took to the Brazos River in Waco for its first regatta of the season late September. Freshman Aftab Khan looked toward the sky, reflecting on how after just two weeks on the water, he was competing in his first-ever regatta.

Khan, who had no prior experience rowing, found the competition and teamwork he had always craved on the team.

“What got me into rowing was my drive to stay fit while competing against others,” Khan said. “Even though we were only novices racing other novices in our first regatta, never have I felt a better sense of teamwork and unison.”

Khan, a Corpus Christi native, had never competed in any sort of rowing competition before coming to Texas. He started rowing last semester and was immediately attracted to the competitive nature of the sport. Although rowing is relatively new for the freshman, Khan has become completely engrossed in the sport.

“Since I have joined, I have watched many Olympic races and other pro races just to get a feel for what I was getting myself into,” Khan said.

However, it wasn’t only the competition that drew Khan to rowing. Waking up before 5 a.m. most mornings, Khan sees a different side of Austin that most others don’t.

“Nothing feels as good as watching the sun rise every morning during practice as we are out there on the water,” said Khan. “It also feels great to say you are part of the University of Texas rowing team, a feat not many can share.”

Khan also enjoys the opportunity to try something new. As an inexperienced rower, it has been a learning process, but one that he enjoys. At six-foot-one-inch tall, Khan finds confidence in his large frame. He believes there is nothing but an upward trend for his rowing future, as well as the future of his club.

“Hopefully we will do well at our national competitions at the end of the season while representing our great school,” Khan said.

As Khan and the rest of the team look ahead to their next competition — the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association regatta in Tennessee — the freshman looks forward to the continued growth for not only himself, but also for his team.

“I just cannot wait to see what the future holds,” said Khan. “The whole club rowing experience has been an exciting process for me, one that I cannot wait to enjoy during the rest of my time at the University of Texas.”

When the women’s rowing team takes to Lady Bird Lake on Saturday to compete in the Head of the Colorado regatta, it will mark the first race in the program’s history without former head coach Carie Graves, who helped start the program in 1998 and announced her retirement in May. 

Instead, the team is now in the hands of Dave O’Neill, a fresh face in Austin but a familiar sight at the NCAA Championships every spring.
During his 16 seasons as the head coach at UC-Berkeley, O’Neill won two NCAA team titles and led the Golden Bears to the NCAA Championships every year, earning him two National Coach of the Year awards. Given his success, O’Neill said he was ready for a new challenge once the top job opened up at Texas. 

“I felt the timing was right,” O’Neill said. “I had great success at Cal. I was really proud of everything we accomplished, and I worked with some wonderful, wonderful people, but then the last few years I started thinking, ‘Could there be something bigger and better?’ I don’t think it was necessarily a mid-life crisis, but I think I was certainly at a point in my career where it’s like, OK, I’ve been at Cal; I did a great job, and now I think I’m fortunate that I’m young enough that I can maybe go somewhere else and make a big mark and do something special.”

O’Neill said women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky’s commitment to raising the profile of Texas rowing, in addition to the size and resources of the University, is ultimately what drew him to Texas. 

“One of the things that Chris Plonsky said to me was, ‘We know we can be good at this sport. We know we should be good at this sport. We want to be good at this sport and good in terms of amongst the top programs in the country,’” O’Neill said. “And that’s entirely why I came.”

Texas won four consecutive Big 12 championships from 2009 to 2012, a streak that ended when Oklahoma edged out the Longhorns to capture the 2013 title. After a fourth-place finish for the Longhorns in 2014, O’Neill said he plans on using the races in the fall, which do not count toward the team’s ranking, to prepare for the more important regattas in the spring. 

Something that guides me every day is, ‘The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing,’ and the main thing is go fast on May 17, the Big 12 Championship,” O’Neill said. “So the fall is entirely about preparing for the spring. There’s three things we have to do: We have to get fitter physically; we’ve got to get better technically; and then we’ve got to improve the culture of the team.”

O’Neill’s résumé also includes stints as the head coach for the U.S. Women’s Under-23 National Team and coaching at the 2012 London Olympics. However, he said he most enjoys the aspects of competition that are unique to collegiate rowing. 

“The Olympics are super cool, but the NCAA regatta is the only championship regatta in the world where every boat is dependent on every other boat for their own success,” O’Neill said. 

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

Sweeping. Sculling. Scags. Gunnels. Feathering. Port. Starboard. Stern. Bow. The sport of rowing almost requires a comprehensive guide of its own just for all its maritime expressions. 

However, the jargon comes as second nature to 20-year-old Ellen Leung, the varsity women’s captain of Texas Crew, which is the club rowing team on campus.

Leung, a biology junior, has been a part of crew since fall of her freshman year, when her twin sister, Allison, convinced her to try the sport. Two years later, Leung still rows, having learned enough to become a mentor to the new members who try their hand at crew every year. 

For many, crew offers a rare opportunity to try something unique that includes less of the prestige and pageantry that may turn away new recruits. 

“I think that, for crew, we give better opportunities for smaller people — for girls,” Leung said. “And, for guys, it’s the only rowing option.” 

UT offers only one official women’s rowing team, and the rest of the hopefuls are destined for the club team, but that doesn’t mean there is no chance for success.

“In the past, like 10 years ago, Texas was one of the fastest teams — people know us for being the fastest,” Leung said. “But over the years since we lost our boathouse three years ago, things have changed. And so we kind of went through this ‘downhill’ thing, but I think we’re going uphill now that we have a new coach. He’s trying to build us back up.” 

Leung is referring to Peter Rosberg, the new head coach of Texas Crew. Rosberg has extensive experience in the sport. He has rowed since his high school days in Detroit, through his time at Marietta College in Ohio and into a successful post-collegiate career. However, a shoulder injury gave him the opportunity to turn his lifelong sport into a full-time coaching position. 

Rosberg’s previous coaching position was at Penn State University, where he encountered a rebuilding situation similar to the current state of Texas Crew. Through high school recruiting and a focus on excellence, Rosberg brought new life to Penn State Crew and has similar plans for Texas Crew. 

The fall season for the sport is a bit more relaxed, with fewer races and more focus on training new recruits for the competitive spring season, when Texas Crew races against local teams, such as Texas Rowing Center and Austin Rowing Club, along with teams from all over the nation. 

The fall is not all fun and games, however, as Texas Crew has two boats entered in the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, scheduled for October. Texas Crew will face off against hundreds of competitors in dozens of boats to make a name for itself. 

With a large number of newcomers and only a few veterans on the squad, rebuilding is going to be a big part of the picture. Although, for Leung and the rest of her squad, it is just another challenge they are willing to overcome.

rowers push a boat on town lake backward in Austin, Texas.

Texas Crew rows on Town Lake

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

If a rower doesn’t pull the blade of his or her oar out from the water in sync with the other rowers in the boat, it can become submerged, and act as a brake. It’s called catching a crab, and it shatters the rhythm of a boat, potentially ruining a race.

Texas Crew, UT’s co-ed rowing club team, has experienced a similar phenomenon in the course of the past season and year. First, the group was evicted from its boathouse of 20 years. With limited access to docks, the women’s squad was left to push its boats into the water under Interstate 35 — waist-deep in December.

The team’s recruiting was also affected by the lack of a boathouse. The team ended tryouts with 40 novice rowers last fall. Struggling with a separated team working out of different boathouses on Town Lake, only six remained at the end of this season.

“I feel like last year was definitely a low point for Texas Crew,” varsity rower Trinidad Gaytan said.

After starting the season with a new full-time coach, the team continued to face challenges this semester when some of its boats and training equipment were damaged beyond use during the recent flash floods in Austin.

Despite the hardship the team has faced, varsity rower Karsten Alexander said he feels more optimistic, and the team has become addicted to the progress it’s made. “When you’re rowing, you can’t stop,” varsity rower Richard Bagans said. “You just keep going. No matter what hits you, you just keep rowing.”

It’s this mentality that is the driving force of this sport. “It’s not that you caught a crab, it’s how fast you recover from catching the crab,” Bagans said. “And that’s what matters.”

This year marks the 49th annual Head of the Charles Regatta. Held in Boston, the Head of the Charles selectively invites crews from all over the world to compete in a two-day rowing competition. It’s one of the leading two-day rowing events in the world and attracts more than 9,000
rowers competing in 55 different racing events.

In previous years, the women’s rowing team qualified in the races for the four and eight boats. In Texas rowing tradition, only the varsity team competes.

This year, head coach Carrie Graves selected just seven girls to compete, running only a four-man boat. The rowers representing Texas are freshman coxswain Emily Walker, junior Kim Gorcyca, junior Casey Redman, sophomore Jessica Smith and freshman Gia Doonan.

Texas will compete Sunday in the Women’s Collegiate Championship Fours race. By entering a single boat, the Longhorns hope to increase their chances of placing high and earning momentum before conference. Coming off tough results in Oklahoma two weeks ago, the Longhorns look forward to competing against the best teams in the country. 

Photo Credit: Colin Zelinski | Daily Texan Staff

While rowing might seem like a smaller sport, there are more Division I rowers on the University of Texas campus than athletes of any other sport than track and field and football. The Daily Texan has put together a Rowing for Dummies to make sure you can float with the lingo.

The air is humid and the morning is early, but the team could not be more excited about getting on the water to kick off its fall season. It even smells like rowing season as members of the team assemble in the boathouse, carrying their boats off the water. 

After four consecutive years holding the conference crown, Texas fell short of a Big 12 title last year — and hope to change
things up.

Despite the tough workout she just emerged from, Abbey Wilkowski, senior from Cypress, Texas and , smiles welcomingly as she settles down, stretching out and wincing as she rubs her sore legs. 

“Rowing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, both mentally and physically,” Wilkowski said. “It’s a very love/hate relationship most of
the time.”

Wilkowski began rowing as a freshman in college after being “hustled” by the tryout tables around campus. Once her novice eligibility was completed, she moved forward to the varsity squad. 

“I remember going into my sophomore year when we did our first 6K erg tests (rowing machine test),” Wilkowski said. “It was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever had to go through.”

At the beginning of each season the team kicks off the year with their annual 6K workouts. The locker room is packed with seven or more girls and a coxswain to coach everyone through the workout. This is the introduction to every season and helps judge how well the team trained over the summer. Instead of the usual playlist, the locker room is silent, with the exception of the coaching staff chatting behind the team and drinking coffee.

“The experience is nauseating and the coffee smell doesn’t exactly help,” Wilkowski said. “After that, so many things in my life I would anticipate to be hard don’t even come close to that experience.” 

Like many athletes, Wilkowski has transferred her rowing experiences to her life off the water. Rowing developed her sense of team value and hard work.

“Rowing has not only taught me how to be a part of a team but also how to work hard individually,” Wilkowski said. “I’ve become very self motivated. I have two jobs: rowing workout every day and school.” 

Wilkowski gained the
respect of her teammates and coaches through her dedication. Wilkowski serves in the stroke position, which is the boat’s tempo setter, a naturally leadership role. 

“I moved up to varsity from the novice squad in the middle of the season last year and it was a really difficult transition to switch teams,” sophomore coxswain Katie Betsill said. “Abbey kind of took me under my wing and helped me through everything.”

After taking some time off after the spring season, Wilkowski resumed work through the summer and returned immediately to the boathouse for optional workouts in early
September. 

“I’m excited for the season ahead. We’ve worked hard and will continue to push ourselves,” head coach Carie Graves said. “They need to continue to learn to harness that power and collectively be fierce.”