February 22, 2002

Next Level

Feb. 22, 2002

By Jack Ferdon
Sports Staff Writer - The Santa Clara

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Sean Eirich is a man with options.

While the stagnant economy has insured that the most important choice for many college grads this year will be whether they wake up in time to watch Blind Date, the senior rower has to choose between going to work and trying out for the national team.

At an indoor meet in Sacramento last weekend, using erg machines instead of boats, Eirich blew away the competition, logging a time of 6.00.4 for 2,000 meters. Erg racing is different from normal races because the competitors race individually on machines. The second-place finisher had a time of 6:12. Head Coach Jay Farwell called the performance "the best erg piece I've ever seen."

The performance also broke the school record set in 1993 by Matt Maddigan, who later competed with the national team. So Eirich has an excellent shot at making the elite squad if he tries out.

"There's no question he has the tools needed at the next level," Farwell said.

Which is great, except that Eirich, an accounting major, already has a job lined up with a good company. Now Eirich must choose between toiling for long hours with minimal compensation or joining the rat race.

"There's not a whole lot of money in rowing. I understand the conflict," Farwell said.

Whatever Eirich decides, it's doubtful his next pursuit will keep him any busier than he is now. He is both a resident Peer Minister and president of the Student-Athlete Leadership Committee, which amounts to a sizable time commitment from anybody. But it's insane coming from someone who does crew, perhaps the most time-consuming of all the sports with its 5 a.m. practices and countless weight room sessions, not to mention all the extra work Eirich puts in to stay in optimal condition.

"I haven't stopped training for two years," Eirich said.

It showed in Sacramento, though Eirich doesn't remember parts of his performance. The six-minute mark was his goal coming into the meet and when he saw that it was within reach with 500 meters to go in the race, he kicked with all he had. But with about 300 meters to go, tunnel vision set in and Eirich couldn't see or hear anything for the rest of the race.

"I thought after 20 seconds of tunnel vision you pass out," Eirich said. "I was wrong."

While Eirich's time was the highlight of the meet, the entire men's crew team posted good marks. Twenty-eight rowers turned in personal bests on the erg. The second fastest time on the team was turned in by freshman Paul Kunk. All of this has their coach setting his sights high.

"We're looking pretty solid right now," Farwell said. "Our goal is to break into the top 25 in the nation. There's an injury (to senior Evan Roades-Brown) right now that's holding us back. But once we get past that we could move up into the top 20."

Strong performances in early season events send a messge to competitors and prepare teams for late season tests.

"We made a statement to the other teams," junior Wiley Erikson said.

But Eirich, the team captain the past two years, knows the real test comes when they get in their boat.

"Our fitness level is where it needs to be," Eirich said. "But racing on the erg is one thing, racing on the water is another."