Oct. 1, 2011
SEATTLE - It's been an eventful summer for Michael Callahan. Coming off a National Championship season, the fifth-year UW coach hustled from one European venue to another, both to recruit new student-athletes and to watch Husky oarsmen compete at the U-23 Championships. Somehow he also managed to squeeze in his own wedding.
Now Callahan is back in his office at Conibear Shellhouse in preparation for the upcoming 2011-12 season, which officially began with Thursday morning's practice. And while the whirlwind summer has waned into the routine of the fall, Callahan has not lost the competitive edge needed to keep the Husky Crew program focused on their season's goals.
It's no secret the Huskies enter the year with a bull's eye on their backs. Washington has not won repeat IRA titles since 1940-41, and the competition this year is loaded with potential challengers. Callahan said his team will need to dedicate an extraordinary effort towards eclipsing the speed of archrival California, as well as Harvard, Wisconsin, Princeton and Brown.
"I'm really excited about the year. But there's a lot of firepower out there with our competition," Callahan said from his office overlooking Union Bay. "These crews are filled with talent, and we have a lot of question marks on our end."
Most notably, Callahan will have to find a replacement for Conlin McCabe. The highly decorated senior oarsman is taking the 2011-12 season off to concentrate on making Canada's eight at the 2012 London Olympics. This leaves a void of power on the port side of the Huskies' varsity eight, and presents a challenge for another oarsman to step up.
"It's going to be a challenge," Callahan said. "We're trying to figure out what our strengths are as a group. We don't have the oarsmen like Conlin McCabe and [recent graduate] Hans Struzyna, names that resonated with the rowing community, anymore. It's going to be a considerable task for us as coaches to get ready to compete at the level we expect to."
Overall, the Huskies lose four rowers from the varsity eight that captured gold at IRAs. Now the difficulty lies with how well the coaching staff can synchronize power and technique and develop young rowers over the course of the next eight months. The returning Husky oarsmen did their parts over the summer: competing internationally, working out in small boats, and maintaining fitness.
Earlier this week, Callahan and freshmen coach Luke McGee met with rowers to lay out the fall training schedule. But there is no easing into the season with this group. On Thursday morning, Callahan had his oarsmen compete in a lengthy pair race, with the 10 best pairs selected to compete for seats in next month's Head of the Charles. The egalitarian selection process to the prestigious fall head race has been a mainstay of the Husky program since Callahan took over following the 2007 season.
At the HOCR, which takes place on Oct. 23, the Huskies will face several of their principal rivals, including Cal and Harvard, in what should amount to an early season litmus test.
"We'll see whether we have guys who are going to step up," Callahan said.