Feb. 24, 2011
After finishing 12th overall at the NCAA Championships last year, the UCLA women's rowing program looks to finish its season with a top finish at the Pac-10 Championships and another berth in the NCAA Championships this spring. Under the guidance of 10th-year head coach Amy Fuller Kearney, the Bruins feature a young roster with a wealth of talent.
The Bruins open their spring campaign against Loyola Marymount on Saturday, March 5, before taking on San Diego State on Sunday, March 13. Both races are open to the public and will take place at Ballona Creek in Marina del Rey, Calif.
Fuller Kearney has helped key UCLA's success since helping bring back the rowing program in 2001. The Bruins sent their varsity eight crew as an at-large selection to the NCAA Championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007, before breaking through with a team bid to the national event in 2010. Knowing the commitment and effort needed to advance to the NCAA Championships, this year's team looks to earn a back-to-back appearance to the prestigious year-end races.
While the bulk of UCLA's roster lies in its freshmen and sophomore classes, the Bruins will look to a trio of four-year rowers to help lead the way this spring. Seniors Caroline Curson, Alaizah Koorji and Rachel LaBella have rowed in UCLA's varsity eight since their freshman season, but are confident that their best is yet to come.
Koorji, a standout coxswain from Orinda, Calif., helped lead the varsity eight to a fourth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships in 2010, allowing UCLA to earn a fifth-place team finish.
"I would put Alaizah in the top five of coxswains that I've ever worked with, and that includes my time competing with the USA National Team," Fuller Kearney said. "I've been very impressed with her leadership in the coxswain seat. Her improvements this year have been technical, and her maturity really helps raise our team's effort at practice."
LaBella will be counted upon to stroke the varsity eight in 2011 after having rowed seven seat in that boat as a junior. Hailing from Princeton Junction, N.J., LaBella rowed bow seat in the Bruins' varsity eight as a sophomore and freshman.
"Rachel did a fantastic job in the fall and stroked her first race at UCLA at the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival in November," Fuller Kearney said. "She has always been good at the drive, helping make the boat go fast. But now she is really letting that boat ride and working on the recovery. We're hoping that she will finish her career with her best season."
Curson rowed seven seat in the Bruins' second varsity eight in 2010 and will compete for a spot in either of the second varsity eight or varsity four boats this season. After having been bothered by a hip injury in her first season in Westwood, Curson returned to race in the second varsity eight as a sophomore.
"Caroline is a good oar and has become a very smooth rower," Fuller Kearney said. "With the competitiveness we have seen for spots on the varsity eight, we would be thrilled to see Caroline compete in the second eight as a senior. She is somebody who we can rely on to be consistent."
UCLA welcomes back five other seniors this fall, each of whom should compete for time on the water in the Bruins' NCAA boats. Katherine Hruska and Anoush Khojikian both made solid contributions as juniors after having transferred to UCLA from junior colleges. Hruska rowed in the second varsity eight and varsity four crews in the second half of the spring in 2010 and has emerged as one of the Bruins most fit athletes.
"Kate has really been driving the competitive component of this team," Fuller Kearney said. "She has made great strides in the fall with technical aspects of her rowing. She is definitely in the mix to make the varsity eight."
Khojikian rowed to a first-place finish in the open eight at the two-day San Diego Crew Classic last season and raced in the second varsity four at the SoCal Challenge. After having spent two seasons rowing at Orange Coast College, this will mark her fourth year competing at the collegiate varsity level. Along with Hruska, Khojikian is another candidate for a spot in the Bruins' varsity eight crews.
"Anoush has trained really hard, becoming one of our most competitive rowers in the weight room," Fuller Kearney said. "She makes it a personal challenge to lift more or as much as anybody. It's been a joy to watch her improve, and we're really hoping that Anoush can find a spot in that varsity eight."
Christa Czer, Monica Harvancik and Chelsea Wolfe round out the Bruins' group of eight seniors. Each of these three rowers joined the team as walk-ons in the fall of 2009 and will push for time on the water in 2011. Harvancik served as one of the Bruins' two alternate rowers at the NCAA Championships last May.
"Monica is very competitive all the time, and you can see that when she is on the water," Fuller Kearney said. "Christa and Chelsea both have provided valuable contributions every day, and they bring a fantastic work ethic to our team."
UCLA returns three juniors in 2011 - Anastasia Alexander, Ariel Handler and Megan Danley. Alexander has rowed on the Bruins' varsity eight the last two seasons and is expected to compete for a spot in that boat again this spring. She rowed bow seat in the eight in each of UCLA's races in 2010, helping the varsity eight secure a fourth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships and a ninth-place finish at the season-culminating NCAA Championships.
"Anastasia came back to campus this year extremely fit," Fuller Kearney said. "We really look forward to seeing what she can do. She has such a smooth oar, and she also makes it look effortless."
Handler and sophomore Mia Hamano will compete for the coxswain seat in the second varsity eight. Handler coxed the second varsity eight and varsity four crews throughout her sophomore season (2010). Hamano coxed the second varsity eight at the end of last spring - against Oregon State and USC, at Pac-10 Championships and at NCAA Championships.
"Ariel is an extremely organized coxswain who helped the four to a third-place medal at Pac-10 Championships last season," Fuller Kearney said. "It will be a battle for her to get into that second varsity seat because Mia Hamano has also been working very hard. We're looking to see which of those two coxswains will step up."
Danley enters her third year with the Bruins after having joined the team as a walk-on in the fall of 2008. After splitting time between novice crews and the second varsity eight as a freshman, Danley had limited time with the varsity four on the team last spring.
"We are thrilled to have Megan back," Fuller Kearney said. "She out-performs everybody in the weight room. This season, she has a great chance to earn a spot in the varsity four."
UCLA's sophomore class is highlighted by Britta Syverson, Jessica McGuire and Alexa Farafontoff. Syverson secured second-team Pocock All-America honors and second-team CRCA All-West Region acclaim as a freshman in 2010. The native of Minneapolis rowed four seat in the varsity eight in each race last spring, helping the Bruins' eight earn a ninth-place finish at NCAA Championships.
"Britta embodies what an All-American is all about," Fuller Kearney said. "She always trains hard, carries a positive attitude and brings her best each day. Our sophomore class is so strong this season, and she's a big reason behind that. We're thrilled to have her on the team, and she is truly a pleasure to work with."
McGuire is competing for a spot in the varsity eight after having joined the team as a walk-on in the fall of 2009. Last spring, she was rowing six seat in the second varsity eight at the end of the season, racing in that boat against Oregon State and USC in dual-meets and at the Pac-10 Championships. At the NCAA Championships, she stroked the second varsity eight.
"Jessica put together a very impressive freshman year," Fuller Kearney said. "Her first stroke was in October of 2009, and by the end of the season, she was stroking the second varsity eight at the NCAA Championships to a 15th-place finish. She has a natural feel for the boat, and we're just excited to see how far she can go."
Farafontoff rowed five seat and three seat in the second varsity eight throughout her freshman year. With aspirations to one day row for the USA National Team, she is competing for a spot in the varsity eight this season.
"Alexa comes in fit after every break, whether in the winter or summer," Fuller Kearney said. "I can completely trust her to come in ready to race and ready to fight. She rows both port and starboard, so that helps double her chances of being able to row in the varsity eight this year."
Other returning sophomores who had considerable contributions as freshmen last spring include Hillary Caldwell, Erica Lockard, Kirstin Snook and Mariko Snyder. Caldwell missed the majority of the fall due to injury, but shined for the Bruins' in the varsity eight during her freshman year last spring. She rowed three seat in the varsity eight in every race (except NCAA Championships, where she rowed five seat) and should push for a seat in the varsity eight again this year.
"Hillary really was our most improved rower last season," Fuller Kearney said. "She struggled this fall with an injury, and we are looking forward to her getting stronger and getting back into the mix next quarter."
Lockard and Snook both rowed in the second varsity eight as freshmen in 2010, helping push the Bruins to an NCAA Championship berth. Lockard rowed three seat through the first half of the season before moving to the second varsity's bow seat prior to Pac-10 Championships. Snook rowed two seat in the second varsity eight throughout her freshman year.
"Both Erica and Kirstin are really striving to make changes," Fuller Kearney said. "Erica has made great strides, realizing that it wasn't about surviving but about thriving. Kirstin has trained very hard and has shown to be very competitive in anything that she does."
Snyder entered the rowing program as a walk-on in the fall of 2009 and finished her freshman year rowing five seat in the novice eight. The sophomore from Westlake Village, Calif., looks for a spot one of the three varsity crews this spring.
"Mariko came to us with a swimming background, but I knew that she could be pretty good," Fuller Kearney said. "She set the fastest erg score on the team in the fall, and has become a fantastic competitive addition to our team."
Other sophomores looking to land spots rowing in either of the varsity eights or varsity four crews include Tanya Smith, Emily McLaughlin, Alexis McPhee and Tamar Schaap. Smith has joined the Bruins after transferring to UCLA from UC Santa Barbara following the 2010 season. McLaughlin rowed in UCLA's novice eight in the second half of the season, including at the Pac-10 Championships. McPhee stroked the open eight to a first-place finish at the two-day San Diego Crew Classic before rowing either two or three seat in the varsity four for the remainder of the year. Schaap rowed five seat in the first-place-winning open eight at last year's San Diego Crew Classic before racing six seat in the novice eight through Pac-10 Championships.
"Our sophomore class is very deep, and these girls are all going to push for spots in NCAA boats this spring," Fuller Kearney said. "Tanya is a true athlete, and we're thrilled that she has joined our program after a successful year at UC Santa Barbara. Alexis made big strides on the erg for us in the fall, and Emily has had among the top eight erg times on our team. Tamar is another walk-on from last season who competed in the novice eight and dropped five seconds off her 500-split time in the fall."
The Bruins' freshman class is headed by Kat Lauer, a native of Madison, Conn., and Olivia Smith, who hails from Sunnyvale, Calif., in the northern portion of the state. Both entered UCLA in the fall with extensive junior rowing resumes. Lauer served as team captain of the Connecticut Boat Club last season, helping lead her varsity eight crew to a gold medal at the 2010 Nationals. Olivia Smith rowed for NorCal Rowing Club, earning a third-place finish at the Southwest Junior Rowing Championships, and attended USA Junior National Team Selection Camp.
"Both Kat and Olivia have made huge strides since joining our program in the fall," Fuller Kearney said. "Olivia is naturally long, lean and powerful. It's surprising how much power she can generate. Kat's erg score was not her strength when she began in the fall, but she improved it dramatically. They are both going to have very good careers here at UCLA."
"We are in a great position as we enter the spring, to have anywhere from 10 to 12 athletes looking for spots in the varsity eight," Fuller Kearney said. "The same is true with our second varsity eight. That means that the four and second varsity four boats will both be stronger. We could be faster this year in all three boats than we have been in the past."