In its fourth season as an NCAA sport, UCLA Women's Rowing is well on its way to reestablishing itself as one of the premier rowing programs in the nation. Leading the Bruins is fourth year coach Amy Fuller Kearney, along with assistant coaches Bill Zack and Guillermo Lemus. Together, they bring back 22 athletes to the varsity squad this season and reload with 25 novices for a year characterized by expanded growth and increasing depth.
"This is an exciting year for the Bruin women," explains Fuller Kearney. "We continue to build our overall depth and speed. There is intra-squad competition for every seat in the Varsity program, which makes every athlete, at every level, a valuable contributor."
The program's recruiting continues to see expansion. Although UCLA will always be a strong advocate of walk-ons, this is the second season that a majority of the novice class was recruited off campus. The Bruins were awarded a total of six scholarships this year, two more than last year, and at least two more additional scholarships will be awarded next year.
"I'm really excited for this year," says Fuller Kearney. " We have an outstanding freshman class, as well as an impressive group of sophomores returning from last season. With these women and our loaded senior class, we have a real opportunity to contend for a spot in the Top 20 nationally." UCLA continues to recruit the nation's best athletes in its quest for an NCAA Championships bid.
Last season, the groundwork was set as the Bruins placed all boats in the Pac-10 finals. This season, the team has set higher standards and expectations for performance. This was proven with impressive performances during the fall at the Head of the Charles in Boston, MA, where the team placed first among U.S. Collegiate teams, and at the Head of the Lake in Seattle, WA, with a third place finish among U.S. colleges.
"With our senior leadership, this team is focused and determined to face every challenge and competition with a winning attitude," adds Fuller Kearney.
The UCLA coaching staff is marked by many years of rowing and coaching experience. Returning for her fourth season at the helm of the UCLA women's rowing team is head coach Amy Fuller Kearney. Fuller Kearney brings over 11 years of coaching experience, as well as over a decade of national and international rowing experience into the program.
"Our coaches offer a lot of top-end experience in the knowledge and understanding of the sport," says Fuller Kearney. "We are here to teach the fundamentals of rowing and bring the winning Bruin tradition to our sport."
Assistant Coach Bill Zack returns for his third season with the team. Zack has had several years of coaching and administration experience within the sport. He has served as a coach for the U.S. Rowing Women's Junior National Team Development Camp. Upon his arrival, Zack wasted no time in developing the UCLA novice eight into Pac-10 Champions. As the primary recruiter for UCLA women's rowing, Zack has landed some of California's and the nation's best juniors to ensure the future success of the program.
"Bill has incredible leadership, organizational and management skills, as well as many insightful anecdotes," describes Fuller Kearney. "With Coach Zack at the helm of recruiting and development, we are certain to find some of the top rowers in the country representing UCLA at the NCAA Championships in the near future."
Zack states, "Because of our experience, our rowers are essentially trained with the same techniques and physiology as the National team and the Olympic team. It's exciting for the rowers that are here, as well as for the rowers that will come."
Returning for his fourth season is assistant coach Guillermo Lemus. Lemus brings several years of experience coaching junior, collegiate and master's programs. In addition to developing the Bruin walk-ons, Lemus is primarily responsible for overseeing the UCLA Boathouse facility.
"In his fourth year, Coach Lemus continues to be a team favorite," says Fuller Kearney. "His positive attitude and love for rowing are contagious, and he is amazing with 'first time rowers.' Lemus couldn't be better suited for his role of walk-on development coach because of his patience, determination and passion for the sport. He enjoys having a hand in turning non-rowers into UCLA Bruin Rowers, and his input and perspective are also greatly appreciated by the Varsity squad."
Joining the UCLA women's rowing team for her first season is volunteer assistant coach Ashley Peterson. Peterson rowed for four years at Cal, graduating in 2004. She is continuing her studies at UCLA at the School of Public Health, working towards a Masters in Epidemiology.
"We are excited to have Ashley helping out with the team this season - she brings a valuable perspective to the coaching staff," says Fuller Kearney. "As a recent NCAA competitor, she inspires the UCLA rowers to push towards that goal. It is great to have her on board. The volunteer position is critical to our success. Ashley works mostly with walk-on freshmen but is able to contribute wherever we need another set of eyes. Her presence assures that everyone on the team gets the attention and feedback they deserve."
For the 2005 season, UCLA boasts 22 returning rowers, including 13 varsity athletes and nine returning novices.
Unique this year is the presence of five four- year rowers - Bruins who joined the team in its first year as an NCAA sport: Elizabeth Felter, Monica Grova, Lauren Hamann, Emina Ong and Jessica Rogers. All five learned to row at UCLA, taking great strides during their four-year careers.
"I'm really proud of these five athletes - they have done a great job every year," says Fuller Kearney. They had to raise the bar each year without anyone setting an example for them, and worked from the ground up to improve each year. They have helped this team go from a club program to a program that could be nationally ranked this year."
Entering into the season, the varsity lineup remains unclear, as the boats and seats are always determined by a rower's performance throughout the season. But Fuller Kearney will select the top 20 regardless of their year in school. This means that returning rowers will be competing with the top freshmen for a seat in one of the three NCAA boats: the Varsity eight, the second Varsity eight and the Varsity four.
"These women really want a fast team, and they are excited with the confidence that they can excel this year," says Fuller Kearney.
The 2005 season is marked by an outstanding senior class composed of eight rowers. "Our team is led by a strong group of seniors this year, who all have a lot of experience and who understand what it takes to improve in the standings every year," says Fuller Kearney. "They understand the work required to compete against top crews, and it is exciting to see them leading the team in that way."
Guiding the team this year are senior captains Kristin Bixel and Monica Grova. Both competed at the Head of the Lake and the Head of the Charles Regatta earlier in the season, helping the team to an impressive finish in both events. Grova, who was selected for her third consecutive year as a team captain, was also named as the most valuable oarswoman last season, and was a member of the 2004 All Pac-10 rowing team.
"Monica would contribute to any Varsity program in the country, and we are quite happy to have her here," says Fuller Kearney. "I think she is excited about making some jumps in her final season and is putting forth the daily work to take this team to the NCAA's."
Bixel, a member of the Pac-10 All Academic First Team and co-captain with Grova, is returning for her third season. A walk-on for the 2003 season, she has taken great steps to reach this level of competition.
"Kristin is a team leader on and off the water," says Fuller Kearney. "She does an amazing job for her size on the erg and is a solid leader in the boat in both technique and power. We are excited to see her contributions to the varsity eight this year."
Senior Jessica Rogers also returns for her fourth season and was a member of the 2004 Head of the Lake crew, where the Bruins placed third amongst U.S. Colleges. She stroked the Varsity eight for the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
"Jessica has a great technical stroke, and it's exciting to see that she has really figured out how to pull the erg, which will give both herself and her team a lot of confidence," says Fuller Kearney. "One of the greatest things about Jessica is that because of her technical strength, I feel comfortable putting her in any seat. "
Senior Elizabeth Felter has been a four year contributor to the team, joining the team as a walk-on freshman in 2001.
"Elizabeth is really trying to vie for a spot in the varsity," says Coach Fuller Kearney. "She has done a great job and has been a top competitor in her four years at UCLA. She is consistently in the top ten on the team."
Senior Kelsey Hicks returns for her third season, ready to make an impact on the Varsity Eight. After taking a year off her sophomore year, Hicks returned to the team, competing in the second varsity boat as a junior, and contributing much to the team.
"Kelsey trained hard over the summer, and as a senior she has poised herself to get a seat in the Varsity Eight, especially with her great attitude," says Fuller Kearney. "She really wants to perform for herself and for her team. It's good to see her excelling and I believe that her power will be an asset in the Varsity this year."
Senior Lauren Hamann is another four-year returner who was awarded the most improved rower of 2004. Although battling a wrist injury, Hamann has been recognized as a competitor with her best still to come. She rowed in her first Varsity eight at the San Diego Crew Classic last season. "Lauren has good connection, a good stroke, and I believe her senior year will be her best year yet," says Fuller Kearney.
Senior Melanie Salter returns for her third season at UCLA, an experienced athlete having rowed competitively for the past seven years. She rowed in the six seat of the second varsity eight last season, including the Grand Finals at the Pac-10 Championships.
"Melanie has done a great job this year in the pairs and is really proving herself to be one of the top rowers on the team," says Fuller Kearney. "With all the training she is doing, she'll continue to see improvements."
Senior coxswain Emina Ong began her rowing career at UCLA four years ago and has made amazing contributions to the team. She steered impressive courses at both the Head of the Charles Regatta and the Head of the Lake during the fall season, in addition to directing the Varsity boat in all races for the past two years.
"Emina aided her team with an outstanding performance this fall, and I feel very confident with her at the helm of the Varsity Eight," says Fuller Kearney. "And I know her teammates do as well."
Liz Pallas-Jacobs (known as PJ by the team), the sole junior on the team, is expected to stroke the Varsity boat. Coming from the Junior National Team, she rowed the complete season in the Varsity boat as a freshman and as a sophomore. "PJ stroked all fall and did a great job with her rhythm and consistency," says Fuller Kearney. "She is willing to give everything to make sure that bow crosses the finish line first."
The sophomore class this season boasts a total of 12 girls returning from the 2003-2004 season, the largest number returning over the past three years, which helps increase the depth of the team.
As a freshman last year, Fritz rowed in the six seat of the Varsity eight. She is able to row both starboard and port, which is an asset to the team. In addition, last year she managed to drop 14 seconds on her 2k ergometer score.
"I think Jessica is a tough competitor," says Fuller Kearney. "When she makes up her mind to keep pushing, she will be pleased with the results."
Wachtel returns after a successful year with the second varsity boat. She was awarded the most inspirational rower of 2004 because of her positive attitude and consistent hard work. Wachtel is known to be a great competitor who improves any boat she is in. During the 2004 Fall season, she earned the bow seat in the Varsity eight at the Head of the Lake, taking part in an impressive performance.
"I have a lot of confidence that Leah is going to put her heart into her rowing every time," says Fuller Kearney. "She has a very high level of fitness and we are happy that she has a couple more years here at UCLA."
Sophomores Erin Rice, Elizabeth Lee, Jessica Holt, Brittany Merchant, Kirsten Moore, Jessica Meredith, Alexis Kalionzes, Anna Lindel, and Megan McQuown move up to the Varsity squad after a successful season on the novice squad.
Rice, one of the top starboards in pairs, has emerged as a strong competitor on the team. "Erin has done a great job rising to the varsity level and really trying to push herself and her teammates," says Fuller Kearney.
Lee and Holt, strong intra-squad competitors, continue to push one another - whether it is on the water or on the erg. Lee had a strong fall season, rowing the six seat in the varsity eight for the Head of the Lake. She learned to row during her freshman year at UCLA, and has already taken great strides in a short amount of time.
"Elizabeth has so much potential and could be a real consistent contributor to the varsity eight for the next couple of years," says Fuller Kearney. "She wants to get the work done, and I see her getting better everyday."
Recruited to the team while walking on campus, Holt also learned to row as a freshman at UCLA. "We are at the tip of the iceberg with her ability, since she has only been rowing for a year," says Fuller Kearney. "I love Jessica's attitude and I want to see her reach her full potential - she is always ready and willing to work."
Merchant is another rower who started her rowing career at UCLA last year. A constant contributor to the novice squad last year, she helps add depth to the team. "Brittany is getting better everyday, which is exciting to see," says Fuller Kearney. "She has a great attitude and, with a little patience, will make a huge impact on the varsity squad in the near future."
Moore moves up from the novice squad, yet suffered a severe ankle injury at the end of summer, which temporarily put a hold on her training.
"Kirsten has potential to really improve, since she is a solid athlete, but it's a matter of her getting back healthy and getting strong to perform consistently," says Fuller Kearney.
Meredith rowed the seven seat of the novice eight last year, helping the team take first in the novice race for the Miller Cup.
"Jessica has a lot of power for her size, and continues to work on her fitness," says Fuller Kearney. "Currently, her role is adding depth to this team which is incredibly valuable and critical for our success."
Both Kalionzes and Lindel come off strong freshman performances, with Lindel selected to row in the Varsity Four for the Pac-10 Championships last season. Kalionzes finished the year in the bow seat of the open four at the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships.
"I'm happy that Alexis and Anna came back to the team. While both need to build power and consistency, it's great to have them to push their teammates," says Fuller Kearney. "They each have a lot of potential."
Coxswains McQuown and Potenza both bring leadership to the Varsity squad after successful freshman seasons. Both came to UCLA with prior coxing experience, armed with the knowledge of leading the boats and executing a good work out. Potenza earned a spot in the second varsity eight as a freshman, and McQuown's duties covered the novice eight.
"Megan's strength is her technique, and her unifying skills - she is a good racer who can really make her crew better," says Fuller Kearney. "Kirsten is a motivator, she can fire everybody up." "It is great to work with three amazing coxswains on a daily basis - if we have good coxswains in our seats, it gives everyone much more confidence," says Fuller Kearney. "Everything just runs more efficiently."
For the 25 novice rowers joining the rowing team this season, it will be a challenge to surpass the performances of prior years' successes.
Four freshmen who are pushing to contribute to the varsity squad this season are Sarah Miller, Erika Roby, Erin Haggerty and Patricia Dudziec. As 2004 recruits, all are expected to make an impact to the squad. Stand out freshmen Alexandra Banis, Bailey Blosser and Jaclyn Roewe, are likely candidates for Varsity four.
"These are all standout freshmen, and are all individuals who have the power that I am looking for to bring up the Varsity program," says Fuller Kearney.
Coaching the novice crews, as well as the Varsity four, is third-year assistant coach Bill Zack. "I think we have a lot of talented and motivated freshmen this year, and we have made it very clear that we are going to put whoever makes the boats go faster in the lineup," says Zack "This is the first year that we feel we have sufficient team depth to get a fast and competitive varsity four."
This is the third season that UCLA has brought in a recruiting class, and each year the recruiting process grows. Still, a large number of rowers come from the UCLA campus itself, and many of the top rowers at the end of four years have been walk-ons.
"We are looking for rowers who are going to make an impact on the varsity level for four years," says Zack. "The team's success depends on every person - even if they are not on the varsity squad this year, they are pushing the people in those boats, and may be in those boats in the future."
Rowing is unique in that first-year rowers have the opportunity to race as novices, allowing the freshmen to develop as rowers at the collegiate level.
"We want these women to make a successful transition to college, in regards to academics, living away from home, and athletics," says Zack. "Freshman year there are so many things to learn, and we want our novice squad to understand what it means to be in a program that wants to succeed at the NCAA level as well develop the skills needed to make that transition."
The Bruins have toughened up their schedule from past years, with races to rival the top 20 teams in the nation. With the Bruins hoping to break into the top 20 this year, they are aiming for a schedule which is highly competitive and promises further improvement.
UCLA women's rowing commences the start of the spring season with the annual tradition of the Parent/Alumni Day and Class Race on March 5 at home in Marina Del Rey. The new tradition of inter-squad competition will continue, with races pitted against the seniors, juniors/sophomores and the freshmen. Alumni and parents will also have the opportunity to take boats out on the water.
UCLA first meet of the season will be against Loyola Marymount and UC Irvine on March 12. With UCLA and LMU sharing the same water for practice, the Bruins and the Lions are vying for rights over the Marina, and the 5th annual Karen Hock-Hjelm Cup. The Bruins expect a good solid home race opener and are ready to face LMU after a tie last season.
On March 20th, the Bruins compete against cross town rivals USC. As part of the Lexus Gauntlet Trophy challenge, where the two schools compete in an array of sports for the title, the Bruins are looking forward to racing against the USC powerhouse, and bringing back the traditional rivalry.
Next up is the San Diego Crew Classic held over a two day period - April 2-3. The race, now in its 32nd year, is for rights to the Cal Cup, which the Bruins have hopes of capturing this year. With a win, they will have the opportunity to compete in one of 12 spots in the Jessop-Whittier Cup next year, which pits them against top schools in the country in 2006.
From April 9-10, the Bruins will be competing at the Windermere Stanford Regatta, Stanford's biggest invitational regatta. Dual races against Texas, Virginia and Clemson, all which promise to be formidable opponents, will occur over the two day period. The Bruins promise to go in fierce, competitive and ready to race.
The Bruins host the 30th annual Miller Cup on April 16th, at Marina Del Rey. It has been a tradition for the Bruins to win the regatta, and as the last home race of the season, they want a tough performance in every event. Loyola Marymount, San Diego State, University of San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine will be in attendance at this race.
The Bruins return to Lake Phalen to compete against the University of Minnesota on April 23. A rivalry between the two teams has developed over the past two years, and this will be the third annual dual race against the two teams. After competing against Minnesota at the Head of the Lake in November, the Bruins are looking forward to this match-up. The race brings its own unique challenges, as the Bruins must borrow equipment from Minnesota and face a long journey in order to compete. The Bruins look forward for the chance to break the tradition of each team winning the race on their home waters.
The Bruin's season will draw to a close with the Pac-10 Championships, on May 14-15, the biggest race of their season. Last year, UCLA crews made it to all four grand finals, a task that the Bruins plan to repeat this year. The Pac-10 conference is always strong, with five teams that finished in the NCAA top 20 last year. The Bruins hope to have the performance of the year, enabling them to get an invitation to the NCAA Championships.