April 29, 2004
By Aaron Juarez
The Santa Clara
Throughout the year-long season, the men's and women's (rowing) teams have toiled through pre-dawn practices and strenuous workout sessions in the gym.
This weekend, at the West Coast Conference Championships and the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association (WIRA) Championship in Sacramento, both crews will look to reap the benefits of those long hours of hard work.
Coming off of a season in which they finished fifth in the WIRA Championships and graduated much of their experienced senior leadership, men's crew has established itself as a surprising contender in a season that was initially expected to be a rebuilding year.
"We lost a lot of seniors last year, so everyone thought that this was supposed to be our off year," sophomore port Alex Nickel said. "But now we all believe we can win and compete with anybody."
Compared to last season's more experienced crew, the 2003-04 men's varsity eight is made up of a younger, arguably hungrier, group of underdogs who won't back down from a challenge.
"It's a light and relatively inexperienced crew," first-year men's Head Coach Tony Barcia said. "But they make up for it with their determination and 'refuse to lose' mentality."
Senior port Juan Perez also noted the benefits in having a leaner crew this season.
Men's Varsity 8
Two weekends ago, the Broncos edged Southern California's varsity eight by less than one second at the Loyola Marymount Invitational, a victory which reinforced the Broncos' confidence and caused their rivals to take notice.
One of Santa Clara's biggest competitors is Gonzaga. Winners of the unofficial WCC Men's Championships-men's crew is not a recognized championship sport by the WCC-for the past two seasons, the Bulldogs benefit from having a recruiting hotbed to draw from in the Pacific Northwest.
"Our men's varsity eight is looking very strong and we're as close to Gonzaga as we've ever been," Barcia said. "Right now we're between four and six seconds behind them, which is relatively small."
"We feel that we'll be able to make up those four seconds," said Perez. "We have a good sprint and we've been working on our middle 1,000."
Men's crew will be looking to start fast in the WCC Championships before turning their attention to the WIRA competition, where they will face fierce adversaries. With about 18 schools involved, the Broncos will look to improve upon their fifth place showing from last season.
"The WIRA is the focal point of our season," Barcia said. "It provides similar levels of competition and more schools."
Continued Barcia, "To break into the top-four would be great. We need to step up and perform. It would be nice to make a strong statement on Friday and keep it up over the weekend."
Also looking to make a statement in the weekend's competition is the Santa Clara women's crew. After a fourth-place finish at the WCC Challenge a month ago, women's crew has refocused itself in preparation for the return races against their conference rivals.
In the competition, all points are combined from each race, including the points earned by the junior varsity, novice eight boats and the varsity eight's boat. Women's crew is a recognized sport in the WCC, so the Broncos are focusing on Friday's WCC Championship.
"We're at a different mindset now than we were at the WCC Challenge," senior starboard Amanda Kremer said. "At the Challenge, we were all kind of lethargic having just been through finals week and with spring break coming up. But our intensity and commitment levels are much higher going into this weekend."
Junior starboard Alison Fleck, who was injured and did not row in the WCC Challenge, also expects a stronger and more focused crew to show up for Friday's races. With a healthy crew that has been able to practice together for the last four weeks, the varsity eight's rhythm and familiarity has flourished in time for the Championship.
"We've been training real hard, improving our rate and developing our rhythm," Fleck said. "Having a healthy crew will also help the boat's mentality."
Another strength the Bronco crew right now is their strong chemistry and team unity. Fleck commented on how this season the women's crew made it a priority to build chemistry and establish bonds throughout the team.
"Because we spend so much time together, we see each other at our best and worst," Fleck said, noting the workouts and practices at 6 a.m. "We travel together, go to dinner and the movies, and we build a connection with our novices. We want everyone to come back and be a part of the team."
On the water, Santa Clara will look to get out to quick starts and use its strength in the third 500 to maintain leads and hold challengers at bay. The women's varsity eight is looking to make a lasting impact this year.
"We're better than previous years," said Fleck. "I don't think we're as much the underdogs as last year."
With only two seniors graduating from this year's boat, their experience will serve as a big advantage for the team both this year and next year. That experience will be beneficial for the women, who are trying to establish themselves in a competitive WCC. Seven-time defending champion Gonzaga has shown signs of vulnerability this season. Several schools, including Loyola Marymount and San Diego have begun to threaten the Bulldog dynasty.
"It's going to be a tough bunch of races this weekend," Kremer said. "We'll try to hang with them and have fun, and we'd love to cream Gonzaga."