Oct. 12, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -
Continual growth is important for any team that wants to improve, but it is especially important for the 2012-13 Alabama rowing squad. To say that this year's Crimson Tide roster looks a little young is an understatement, with more than 70 percent of the team coming from the freshman and sophomore class.
The Tide is also looking to replace a very experienced senior class that included First Varsity 8+ and First Varsity 4+ coxswains Paige Storey and Emily LeBeau as well as All-Conference USA rower Leigh Ann Terch, who is now a graduate assistant coach for Alabama. The Tide is also missing two-year captain Kristen Iverson, as well as Audrey White, Erika Baranek, Stephanie Varner and Maria Styer, who all spent time in the First Varsity 8+ boat during their careers.
"There's no doubt that we're young and that we have some definite holes to fill from last year," head coach Larry Davis said. "But because of our circumstances last year, a lot of younger rowers had a chance to gain experience in the upper boats and I think that will carry over this year."
The Tide went through a majority of the 2011-12 season trying to overcome the injury bug, which meant that the rookies of 2012 had opportunities for a higher level of experience than they might ordinarily have had in a normal season.
Two members of the 2011-12 freshman class, Emily Chadwell and Logan O'Neil, finished the year in the First Varsity 8+. There was also a trio of rookies - Caroline Blackington, Alyssa Drevenak and Maureen Purcell - in the Second Varsity 8+ at the end of the 2011-12 season. Last year's freshmen made their biggest impact on the First Varsity 4+, where, outside of LeBeau in the coxswain seat, the entire boat - Emily Osborne, Jennifer Wagner, Jackie Woudenberg and Melissa Etter - were in their first year with the Tide.
"Our current sophomores gained a great deal of experience in their first year with us," Davis said. "In general, a large percentage of that class has come back ready to go, which bodes well for us moving forward."
As large and as experienced as the sophomore brigade is, that's not to say that the upper classes aren't prepared to lead the way. The 2012-13 senior captains, Tabitha Coleman and Jessica Parker, both earned their leadership roles throughout the first three years of their careers, having both spent time in the First Varsity 8+.
"I have faith in our captains both as rowers and as leaders," Davis said. "There isn't any doubt in my mind that they are ready to go out and do what they need to do as captains, be role models, and do the things we need to do as a team to develop this year."
Senior Canella Tinker, along with juniors Brianne Hadar and Lynsey Marshall, all finished 2011-12 in the First Varsity 8+ and will once again look to compete for seats in the upper boats.
Senior Kiffy Balchon spent time in both the First Varsity 8+ and Second Varsity 8+ last season and will be joined in the coxswain corps by sophomores Zoe Lynch and Elizabeth Van Zandt as well as junior Bernadette Bucher.
"Most of our returners are set to take on leadership responsibilities as well as be able to help make a boat move," Davis said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do once we get to racing."
In addition to the 24 veterans, Alabama welcomes a dozen newcomers to its roster, including 11 true freshmen and one junior transfer. Making up a third of the Tide's roster, the newcomers are a talented group who should make an immediate impact on UA's fortunes.
"This is the second year in a row that we've had a strong signing class and that will definitely give us a boost, especially when this group settles into the realities of collegiate rowing," Davis said. "We have certainly laid a solid foundation as we continue our climb up the ranks as a program."
The 12 newcomers that populated the Tide's roster when classes began in August do not include the slew of walk-ons who will join the Novice squad in the fall. That group will be made up almost entirely of Alabama students with no rowing experience but the athletic ability to make the transition to NCAA Division I student-athlete.
The Tide's fall season will get underway in October and will feature a trio of events starting with the Chattanooga Head Race and finishing with the Head of the Chattahoochee, both in Chattanooga, Tenn. In between, Alabama will once again compete at the prestigious Head of the Charles in Cambridge, Mass.
A challenging spring season wil get underway in mid-March, and both opens and closes in Oak Ridge, Tenn., with the Louisville Invitational and the Conference USA Championships, respectively.