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State of Collegiate Rowing: Recalibrating Expectations

By Michael Callahan and Yaz Farooq

The 2016 Championship Season represented a major shift in the status quo. Across the board at the NCAA Championship Regatta and the IRA Regatta, the finals exemplified that major change was evident at a level deeper than results.

On the men’s side, the 2016 IRA had the most diverse collection of winning schools for the better part of 10 years. While we continued a winning streak in the Freshman Eight and Varsity Four, Princeton claimed the Third Varsity; Harvard claimed the Second Varsity; and California claimed the First Varsity. Washington’s dominance over the IRA Regatta since the early 2000s has put the league under enormous pressure. Last year’s results send a message that our competitors have responded and are stepping up.

On the women’s side, the winds of change are arriving at the NCAA Championships as well. Ohio State has been a dominant team for multiple consecutive championships in the Varsity Eight and the team points trophy. This past season saw Ohio State narrowly squeak out a Varsity Eight win, while California claimed the Second Varsity Eight, Varsity Four, and consequently the team points trophy. As on the men’s side, this sends a strong indication that the bar is rising faster and faster, with little sign of a slow down in the future.

For our sport as a whole, this is an exciting time for rowing in the United States, especially in the face of major challenges to World Rowing by the International Olympic Committee. Never has there been so much talent, so many resources, so much competition, and so much speed at the top end. The US Racing Circuit culminating with the IRA and NCAA Championships is no longer an obscure, alternative path for domestic and international rowing talent, it is a now a destination. Some of the best rowers in the world are now coming to the United States to be part of this unique and celebrated experience.

While these winds of positive change are certainly good news for the collective progress of our sport, it means one thing for Washington Rowing: challenge. More schools are investing in more staff members, more recruiting dollars, longer and harder training, etc. Additionally, structural changes such as the retirement of freshman rowing on the men’s side are drastically shifting the development model for collegiate rowers. Competitors are now utilizing significant advantages in facilities, technology, and training in areas where Washington Rowing once led the way.

Our task now is to find the next breakthrough and evolve to create a new level of speed. It will require us to push the standard in every aspect of the program’s operations: recruiting, technology, research and development in training and physiology, coaching, alumni outreach, and in areas we don’t yet see. It will also require a collective effort. No single aspect will get the job done.

Our coaches and our student-athletes are coming together to take on this challenge. Collaboration and teamwork on a daily basis have brought a new attitude and a new energy to the Conibear. Two weeks ago, 120 rowers took on the classic “Friday Night Fights” erg workout: men and women combined. The energy in the room was something entirely new. And as the roaring of every erg fan in the boathouse drowned out all other sounds, it dawned on us that no other boathouse in the United States was doing this. It was a galvanizing experience for everyone, which provided all of us with the knowledge that together, we can build a new level of speed. This could be the source of strength that pushes Washington Rowing forward.

Join the Challenge

We invite all alumni—from our long-time supporters to recent grads—to join us in rising to this challenge by donating to the Annual Fund to continue our winning legacy.

This is not a singular offensive on the men’s program or the women’s program; it is a challenge to all of Washington Rowing. We need more resources for the recruiting process; more investments to increase the impact of our scholarships; more racing opportunities for our student-athletes; and more resources for research and development to keep us on the cutting edge.

Without expansion in these areas, Washington Rowing will struggle to be a championship program. We will not be able to find the best people, attract them, and provide them the best collegiate experience and path for elite development. Without maintenance of these crucial areas, Washington Rowing will struggle to be even a competitive program. We need your help, and we need it now. Only together, as a unified Washington will we emerge stronger to conquer what lies ahead.