Two seasons ago, Texas’ top senior club rowers graduated. Last year, a staffing change came when ex-Penn captain Nate Fox became the new varsity coach.
Despite the changes, Texas went on to win the Head of the Hooch race in Chattanooga on Nov. 6 and is now buckling down for winter training to get ready for the spring season.
The fall season has been a complete turn around for the team, and the transition can be credited to its newfound determination.
“People are coming to practice with more focus, more fire and ready to work — things that aren’t easy to do at 5:15 a.m. every morning,” said senior Tyler McDonald. “Furthermore, the rowers are putting in extra work outside of practice multiple times per week.”
The season, which began in early October, brought the Longhorns surprising success, including a first place finish in their four’s race. The team went to Boston for the Head of the Charles, the world’s largest two-day rowing event, to race their eight and beat their time from the previous season by a minute.
“At this point, a lot of us were beginning to notice our potential and realized that we may just be able to finish this season out on a good note,” McDonald said. “We came back to Austin and laid down some awesome results at our only home race this fall, Head of the Colorado.”
During the Head of the Colorado, Texas swept the pairs’ event, taking first through fourth places. McDonald battled his way to the top, overcoming a comedy of errors to finish first.
“My partner Alex Mitrowski and I ended up winning gold, even though one of my shoes had broken off of the footplate, and the other foot came out of its shoe halfway through the race,” McDonald said.
When Hooch, the team’s most important race of the fall, rolled around, the Longhorns did not quite know what to expect.
“We had done very well at our home race, but the caliber of competition isn’t as high as other races, and we were expected to win anyway,” McDonald said. “We entered our eights and our fours at the Hooch and thought we did well, but results weren’t posted until later.”
With the 7th-place finish from the previous year haunting them, the team was shocked to eventually learn it came in second, only 2.3 seconds behind Jacksonville University — the event’s winner the year prior.
“That result was a message to us that the changes we had made and the work we had put in since the beginning of the season were working,” McDonald said. “At that point, all of us in the top — Andrew Cox, Alex Mitrowski, Zach Boven, our coxswain Emily Lim, and myself — got together and decided that a gold finish in the fours race, which was 3 hours away, was something completely doable.”
After extreme practices and intense work ethics, winning the gold could not have been a more pleasant surprise for the team, especially after poor results in the same event last year.
“I probably won’t ever forget the moment when we found out our results,” McDonald said. “I’ve always heard my coaches talk about those kinds of moments, the kind of moments you’ll never forget, where you can’t exactly explain the emotions you feel. I had never quite understood what they meant. Now I know.”