Feb. 24, 2012
After finishing 12th overall at the 2010 NCAA Championships, the UCLA women's rowing program looks to return to the NCAA Championships for the second time in three seasons and finish its year with a top finish at the Pac-12 Championships. Under the guidance of 11th-year head coach Amy Fuller Kearney, the Bruins feature a young roster with a wealth of talent.
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 another appearance in the prestigious year-end races.
While the bulk of UCLA's roster lies in its freshmen and sophomore classes, the Bruins do return seven out of the eight rowers from last year's varsity eight crew. "This year we're pretty excited to be returning seven out of the eight rowers with the varsity eight," Fuller Kearney said. "Last fall, we started off with a pretty young group, a lot of young walk-ons coming from the novice squad and some first-year rowers in that top group. So we really had to start with the basics and this year we've been able to work from a higher level from the first day. This is really showing in terms of their confidence and their rowing ability." To begin, Jessica McGuire will be making a run at a seat in the varsity eight in 2012 after having rowed in the bow and six seats for the eight crew last year. McGuire, a junior and former walk-on from Chino, Calif., stroked the second varsity eight at the San Diego Crew Classic as a sophomore and at the NCAA Championships as a freshman.
"I'm really excited to have Jessica back from illness related surgery last spring," says Fuller Kearney. "She's doing an excellent job and right now is making great strides technically. Her power is just getting better and better as well as her fitness, so that's been fun to see."
After rowing in the varsity eight all of last season as a freshman, sophomore Kat Lauer will be counted on once again to contribute to the varsity eight crew this year. Lauer gained valuable experience last season, as she rowed in the five seat for the second half of the 2011 season and also saw time at the three seat against California.
"Kat made the varsity as a freshman last year and is back stronger than ever," Fuller Kearney said. "She's so feisty and can switch gears into this `I will not lose mode.' It's really fun having her around."
Junior Britta Syverson also returns to the varsity eight crew after earning first-team All-Pac-10 and CRCA All-West Region honors in 2011. She rowed in the seven seat and also saw time in the stroke seat last season for the varsity eight. As a freshman in 2010, Syverson secured second-team Pocock All-America honors and second-team CRCA All-West Region acclaim. The native of Minneapolis rowed four seat in the varsity eight in each race as a freshman, helping the Bruins' eight earn a ninth-place finish at NCAA Championships.
"Britta is now a junior and a captain and coming off of the U-23 Rowing Championships in the women's double," Fuller Kearney said. "She is really fit, and really strong and very coachable. She is also a great leader in the boat and her high expectations are contagious."
Junior Alexa Farafontoff will be competing this spring for a spot in the varsity eight after seeing time with the second varsity eight in her first two years. Hailing from El Dorado Hills, Calif., Farafontoff rowed in the six and seven seats with the second varsity eight last year after rowing in the three and five seats her freshman year. Farafontoff also competed in two races with the varsity eight in 2011, rowing six seat in the Bruins' win over LMU and four seat in the team's win over San Diego State.
"Alexa is looking to try and make her first varsity eight this year," Fuller Kearney said. "She's been in the second varsity her first two years and I've really seen her turn a corner this year in terms of her fitness. Also, she is learning how to translate her desire to be great into the discipline that is required to achieve that end. I'm hoping that she can stick with it as the intensity increases and make sure that her level continues to rise because she's rowing really well."
Mariko Snyder, a junior from Westlake Village, Calif., rowed in the varsity eight throughout her sophomore year and will once again look to earn a spot on the varsity eight this year. Snyder entered the program as a walk-on in the fall of 2009 and finished her freshman year rowing five seat in the novice eight.
"Mariko is just so strong. She is really taking her game to a whole new level," Fuller Kearney said. "As a walk-on she was one of the rowers that was a bit raw last year but has stepped up and is rowing very well and very long for her height. Her power just continues to improve and I think she's a great leader on and off the water for the team."
Like Snyder, sophomore Erin Wenzel will be competing for a spot in the varsity eight this season after rowing with the second varsity eight, varsity four and novice eight crews as a freshman. Wenzel rowed five seat in the Bruins' victories over California and Stanford in the novice eight last year and led UCLA to a first-place finish in the varsity four on day one of the San Diego Crew Classic.
"Erin was in the novice and the second varsity last year as a first-year rower and she really came back so fit from the summer this year," Fuller Kearney said. "She just decided that this is going to be the year that she steps up into the varsity and she's a fantastic athlete and has a great feel for the boat. I can always trust that she's going to work, and that's a great attitude to have in the varsity eight."
Junior Kirstin Snook and sophomore Nicole Sung-Jereczek will also look to compete for a seat in the varsity eight this season. Snook rowed two seat with the varsity eight against USC and at the Pac-10 Championships last season while Sung-Jereczek rowed in the varsity eight throughout her entire freshman season.
"It's going to be a tough fight," Fuller Kearney said. "Kirstin rowed a lot with the varsity eight last year as did Nicole and right now they're really fighting hard for that last port seat. Both are looking very strong and both are extremely feisty and very fit athletes so it's a good problem to have. I don't know that either of them will row every race in the varsity eight this year. We're probably going to switch it up and see who's bringing the most on race day and who can handle the pressure the best."
Senior Anastasia Alexander has rowed on the Bruins' varsity eight the last three seasons and is expected to contribute in that boat again this spring. In 2011, she rowed with both the varsity and second varsity eights, seeing time at the bow, seven and three seats. She also 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 year-end NCAA Championships.
"Anastasia, who's our only senior this year in that boat, is really having her best year ever," Fuller Kearney said. "She's struggled with illness or injury her first three years here but has still put together a pretty successful career. I'm excited about her being able being healthy, fit and getting back to great form this year."
The Bruins also return three coxswains this season in Mia Hamano, Eugenia Lin and Ariel Handler. Hamano coxed the second varsity eight all throughout her sophomore campaign last season while Handler coxed the varsity four all of last season and saw time in the second varsity eight coxswain seat at the end of last year. Lin coxed the novice four crew against San Diego State, USC and at the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships last year.
"Our returning coxswains this season are junior Mia Hamano, sophomore Eugenia Lin, and senior and captain Ariel Handler," Fuller Kearney said. "At this point, Mia and Ariel are running the practices with the two Varsity Eights and Gigi (Eugenia) is looking pretty solid in the top V4+. It makes every day on the water more efficient and productive for the top crews to have experience in the coxswain seat. Gigi is in her second year of coxing and, as an athlete herself, has a competitive nature and understanding of what it takes to get the most out of her rowers. Mia and Ariel both spent time in the second varsity eight last season and bring experience and confidence to the crews. These two coxswains work well together to make the team and each other better."
The Bruins' second varsity eight will be mostly compiled of underclassmen, but are poised to have a great season on the water.
"On the second varsity eight, again it's a young crowd but they're rowing really well and are quite feisty," Fuller Kearney said. "The big component for us right now is taking that desire to be great and turning it into the daily discipline and fight that is required to get there. Those are two very different things."
Sophomore Carolina Paini slowly moved her way up from the novice eight to the varsity four to the second varsity eight at the end of last season and is looking to build off that momentum heading into the spring season.
"Carolina is sitting in the stroke seat and stroked the second varsity at the end of the year last year," Fuller Kearney said. "The thing I love about her is that she's very lean, rows long, and I just know that she's not going to ever cry uncle. She's just so fierce and is going to give everything that she has. It's a great quality for somebody to have in the stroke seat. Also, as a ballerina she has a natural grace and can feel a rhythm very well so she sets a nice, long pace up there in the stroke seat."
Another sophomore, Natalie Pettee, will look to compete for a spot in the second varsity eight after rowing with the novice eight for much of her freshman campaign.
"Natalie just started to learn how to row last year and again, not unlike Erin Wenzel, has just trained really hard," Fuller Kearney said. "I'm not sure where she'll end up but I know that she's going to keep moving up. I'm super excited that she's just a sophomore and we have so much more time to help her build because she's all in. No matter what we're doing, she's giving everything whether it's running, rowing, weight lifting or erging. She's made a huge leap this year and it's going to pay off for all of us."
Hillary Caldwell, a junior from Washington D.C., is looking to earn a spot with either the varsity eight or second varsity eight this spring. Caldwell rowed three seat in the varsity eight in every race (except the NCAA Championships, where she rowed five seat) during her freshman year and saw time with both the varsity eight and second varsity eight as a sophomore in 2011.
"Hillary is in that mix," Fuller Kearney said. "She was in the varsity two years ago as a freshman and she's had some struggles with fitness but she's getting her form back. It's really exciting to see her because when she's fit and can go she withstands anything. She will just get into another zone and at the end of the piece I'll wonder if she's ok because she's gone that deep. Right now she's fighting for a seat in the varsity as well so I hope that turns out, because the more girls that are fighting for the varsity seats, the better everybody will be."
UCLA also has three freshmen looking to make an impact with the second varsity eight this season in Cathy Stolitzka, Allison Doran and Alex Caniglia. Stolitzka is a native of Los Altos, Calif. and last year served as the team captain for the Los Gatos Rowing Club. Doran hails from Folsom Calif. while Caniglia is from San Diego, Calif. and competed for San Diego Rowing Club.
"We have three freshmen that are raising their games completely in Cathy, Allison and Alex," Fuller Kearney said. "All three are fighting for seats in the second varsity and moving ahead of some people that were in that boat last year because they've come in, trained hard and are super fit. They're also very coachable and they're just moving the boat, whether it's the pair, the four or the eight. We're giving them a shot right now and hopefully we'll have some nice young, competitive blood in there to keep everybody feisty and fighting for seats."
After seeing time with both the varsity and second varsity crews as a freshman, sophomore Deanna Wong will look to make a similar contribution this upcoming spring. Wong saw time primarily in the bow seat with both crews in 2011.
"Deanna spent a lot of time with the varsity eight last year and she's a very powerful person for her size and a very strong competitor," Fuller Kearney said. "She's rowing right now in the bow seat and I don't know where she'll end up, but she's going to be a really strong component whether it's in the varsity or the second varsity. She's just consistent and rows well under pressure so that's another thing that I'm really looking for from all these athletes."
In the varsity four group, the Bruins will be looking to various rowers to compete for spots in the boat. Juniors Alexis McPhee, Erica Lockard, Tamar Schaap and Emily McLaughlin, and sophomores Victoria Babson, Taylor Veit, Samantha Upton and Audrey Calandra will all be looking to earn places in the four boats. McPhee and Schaap rowed in the varsity four crew throughout their sophomore seasons while Lockard and McLaughlin rowed with the eight and second eight respectively. Veit and Upton rowed with the novice eight during their freshman campaigns while Calandra saw time with the novice eight towards the end of last season.
"In the fours group, it's incredible because we basically have the whole four from last year returning at various times," Fuller Kearney said. "We're looking for Alexis, Erica, Tamar, which is the same group from last year, to be joined by Victoria, Emily, Taylor, Sam and Audrey Calandra who are rounding out a very, very strong fours group. If somebody had told me that that would be the fours group at the beginning of the year I would be so excited because they were fast last year and now that we have even more depth. They're getting pushed every day by a second four that's very competitive. We don't know what the lineup is going to be in there yet. I expect them to be very quick again and quite competitive across the nation."
The Bruins' freshman class will look to round out the novice eight crew as Christine Bragg, Olivia Taylor, Kendal Mitchell, Victoria Vander Poel, Kristy Kayatta, Christina Nelson and Sarah Dierksen are each poised to lead the novice eight group this year. Bragg and Taylor are natives of Darien, Conn., where they were both members of the Connecticut Boat Club that won the gold medal at the 2010 U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships. Nelson comes from Thousand Oaks, Calif and was a multi-sport athlete competing with Marina Aquatic Center as a junior rower. Mitchell hails from San Mateo, Calif. and was a three-time letterwinner in rowing at St. Ignatius College Prep while Vander Poel, Kayatta and Dierksen are all walk-ons looking to make a big impact in the spring.
"The novice eight is still pretty stacked," Fuller Kearney said. "I wouldn't be surprised if some of the top novices actually made their way into the fours mix by the NCAA Championships. I think that this is for sure our fastest novice eight ever because we've been able to, with the depth that we have, keep our top freshmen in the novice eight. I know I said that three have moved up, but a vast majority of the people that we recruited from top programs around the country like Christine, Olivia and Kendal are still rowing in the novice eight. Coach Price is having a great time on the water every day watching such a fired up and excited group. Thankfully those girls are being pushed by the second novice eight, which is also strong. We have an incredible group of walk-ons this year that are really getting better every day like Victoria, Kristy and Sarah. These girls are putting numbers up on the ERG machine that are phenomenal and now we're just working hard to get their rowing technique up to speed so they can compete with the more experience rowers. Once they get that, the sky's the limit."
Fuller Kearney offered this final thought as the Bruins head into their spring season:
"I'm really excited with the depth of the team this year. The attitude is awesome and the coaching staff is doing an amazing job. Justin, Luke and I are working daily to help the athletes work towards their potential and raising the level of discipline and intensity is the key for this young team. We expect, as always, the Pac-12 competition will be fierce. It's going to be a tough conference. It gives us a lot of great opportunities to race against some of the fastest boats in the country. We have to be able to race, stroke for stroke, with the best. That's what being a champion is about. Our goal has always been to be able to race on any given day with any program in the country in any boat. Everybody's really excited and it's a positive environment and it looks to be a great season."