March 6, 2013
Having advanced to the NCAA Championships in two of the last three seasons, the UCLA women's rowing program has established itself as a national competitor. Led by 12th-year head coach Amy Fuller Kearney, the Bruins' program certainly is trending in the right direction. With 10 fourth-year seniors returning in 2013, UCLA has high hopes and elevated expectations this spring.
Last season, UCLA finished eighth as a team at NCAA Championships, its highest championship finish in program history after having finished 12th at the national event in 2010. UCLA's second varsity eight finished sixth in the Grand Final (places 1-6), while both the varsity eight and varsity four finished first in the Petite Finals (places 7-12).
"It was a great performance last year for our program," Fuller Kearney said. "We really over-performed in terms of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, which is always the goal, especially in this sport."
Fuller Kearney and the Bruins are most encouraged by the veteran depth returning to this year's team. In addition to 10 fourth-year seniors back for their final season, UCLA is encouraged by talented juniors Carolina Paini, Natalie Pettee, Nicole Sung-Jereczek, Erin Wenzel, Kat Lauer, Samantha Upton, Victoria Babson and Audrey Calandra.
"Everybody is a key returner for us right now because last year's team performed so well," Fuller Kearney said. "But there are some veterans that we know will be capable of returning in both the varsity and second varsity eight boats. Several freshmen and transfer students have worked very hard in the offseason and are more than capable of filling in spots in the eights."
Among UCLA's group of fourth-year seniors, the Bruins are counting on Jessica McGuire, Alexa Farafontoff, Hillary Caldwell, Kirsten Snook and Britta Syverson to continue challenging for seats in the varsity eight. Mia Hamano will return as UCLA's coxswain in the varsity eight. Farafontoff, Caldwell, McGuire and Paini all helped the second varsity secure a sixth-place finish in the second eight at NCAA Championships last year. Syverson, Lauer, Wenzel, Sung-Jereczek, Snook and Hamano rowed in the varsity eight at NCAA Championships.
Freshman Kate Miller are three competitors who have the potential to join either the varsity or second varsity eight crews. Miller rowed in the novice eight last season, while White and Volker are new additions to the Bruins' program in 2013. White arrives at UCLA from Hamilton, New Zealand, where she attended Hillcrest High School. Volker transferred to UCLA as a junior after having studied at the University of Tasmania in Australia.
"We are excited to have that youth and enthusiasm in there, particularly with Alice, Meaghan and Kate," Fuller Kearney said. "Meaghan is a very strong, very solid performer who is among the top athletes in our weight room. Kate has moved the boat very well and it's a credit to her that during the summer she really committed herself to training and getting better."
Syverson, a senior from Minneapolis, Minn., and Paini, a junior from Costa Mesa, Calif., competed in the summer of 2012 on the U.S. Under-23 National Team. Syverson and Paini represented the USA in the quadruple sculls, Paini in the lightweight event, in Trakai, Lithuania. In the summer of 2011, Syverson competed for the Under-23 team in the double sculls in Amsterdam.
"Carolina Paini and Natalie Pettee will most likely be in the stern of one of our two varsity eights," Fuller Kearney said. "This pair stroked the second varsity eight to a victory at the San Diego Crew Classic and then split with Carolina stroking the 2V and Natalie setting pace in the V8. Both athletes have great feel for the boat, length, and rhythm."
Hamano will be expected to lead a group of young coxswains. A fourth-year senior from Piedmont, Calif., Hamano directed the Bruins' varsity eight during UCLA's historic season last spring. Others expected to vie for spots in the second varsity eight and varsity four coxswain seats include sophomores Katie Shurtleff, Chloe Kojima, Maddie Alden.
Kojima served as the Bruins' coxswain in the varsity four at Pac-12 Championships and NCAA Championships in 2012, while Shurtleff coxed the Bruins' novice eight through the majority of last season.
"We have a very good corps of coxswains, with Mia as a senior and our three sophomores - Katie, Chloe and Maddie," Fuller Kearney said. "People really trust Mia's calls, they listen to her and respond together. For our younger coxswains, it's a learning process and those three have really shown significant improvements in the coxswain seat."
In addition to a strong group of veteran rowers, at the senior, junior and sophomore levels, UCLA looks for its incoming freshmen to provide a significant boost to the team's depth. The Bruins' latest incoming class features over 15 freshmen, and competition for seats in the team's novice eight crew has been very strong.
"We are very excited about this freshman class, and those rowers are going to have a chance to prove themselves right out of the gate this season," Fuller Kearney said. "They'll have a chance to perform at the Pac-12 Championships, and we're excited to see what they can do not just this season but also down the road in their UCLA careers."