Oct. 13, 2009
When it comes to selecting the eight men and women who will compete in Boston for the 45th Head of the Charles Regatta on Sunday, the Washington rowing program wanted the process to be as transparent as possible.
The competition was heated, so the coaching staff removed themselves from having to make the decisions, leaving it up to the rowers. Natural selection took care of the rest.
"In the fall, we allow the athletes to select themselves," said head coach Michael Callahan. "We just allow the rowers to race off for their spots."
So at daybreak on a cool Tuesday morning - before rain showers swept across campus - both crew teams bundled themselves in stocking caps and jackets and rowed out in pair boats to the base of South Lake Union. The boats had the benefit of glass conditions on the water. For the race itself, the rowers endured a 6,000-meter race up and through the Montlake Cut, ending near the shores of Laurelhurst, with the four fastest pair boats making the trip to Boston.
Coaches staggered the starting times and provided initial stroke-rate data, but other than that they had minimal input.
On the men's side, the varsity eight will include: Conlin McCabe, Anthony Jacob, Mathis Jessen, Tom Lehmann, Hans Struzyna, Max Lang and Maxwell Weaver, Ty Otto. Michelle Darby, a Massachusetts native, will cox the boat. For the women, it will be Veronica Tamsitt, Kayleigh Mack, Kerry Simmonds, Erin Lauber, Jennifer Park, Hanne Trafnik and Rosanne DeBoef, Erika Shaw. Ariana Tanimoto, also a resident of the Bay State, will be the coxswain.
The rowing program likes its selection system, which is a Washington tradition, because it rewards the athletes who conditioned themselves over the summer, prepared well mentally and worked on their rowing technique. Pedigree doesn't matter. When the race was finished, those left off the traveling squad included a who's-who of elites in the rowing community, including those who rowed with their national teams over the summer, or medaled at the 2009 U23s in Racice, Czech Republic.
In order to make the selection group, Husky rowers have to qualify during a race in a coxed-pair. Rowers also get to select their partners at the beginning of the season, and can trade partners at any point if something's not working out on the water. When the process is over, the rowers understand there are no mitigating factors or blame to place elsewhere. Other programs might use erg scores or seat race for spots, but not at Washington.
"What it boils down to, it means these kids are the most skillful and the most motivated," said head women's coach and rowing coordinator Bob Ernst, "so I'm content with that."
Callahan sited Weaver as an example of someone who doesn't necessarily have top varsity status with the team, but can move up through hard work. Weaver worked out in a pair boat this summer, and has jumped from the third varsity boat to the Head of the Charles boat in the span of three months.
"That's what the system allows," Callahan said. "Mobility through hard work." The Head of the Charles is also a unique opportunity for Washington to test itself in the distance race season. The men's team won the prestigious event last year in a field with 37 boats, including all eight Ivy League schools, while the women's program finished sixth, albeit second among NCAA schools.