April 6, 2011
SEATTLE - As novice coach Nicole Minett likes to put it, no one understands how hard Husky rowers work than, well, Huskies.
This is why the program likes to foster strong relationships with its alumni, including the ones who are interested in coaching. So when Vanessa Tavalero found herself out of coaching work when UC Davis eliminated its rowing program last year, she knew there would be a few sympathetic ears back at the UW, where she rowed from 1997-00.
The Huskies now utilize four assistant coaches for the women's crew program, all former Huskies. Tavalero and Kayleigh Mack both joined the team as coaches this fall, and their background as former Husky oarswomen has been a tremendous asset in the boathouse.
Tavalero is on staff in an internship role, but she's a valued contributor because of her knowledge of the sport and her attention to detail. It helps that she spends a lot of her time working with her old teammate in Minett, and her mornings are often composed of sitting opposite the novice coach discussing boat lineups and training strategies, or helping with recruiting. On the water, Tavalero is out on the launch filming practice and occasionally assisting when needed.
Most importantly, Tavalero brings the traits of a successful Husky. During her rowing career, Tavalero competed with Minett in the 2000 varsity 8+ that made history in England, winning the first-ever Henley Prize, in addition to numerous regular-season honors.
"It's nice because she sees a lot of the same positive things in the girls and also sees the things that we all need to do better. It's refreshing," Minett said. "She always brings an attitude that's really positive and tenacious in the sense that she has no limits on her ability for working as hard as possible to get the job done, which is how all Huskies are."
Tavalero had a comfortable coaching career in Northern California. After earning her masters degree from the University of San Francisco and traveling the world, Tavalero settled into a coaching routine. She started with a junior crew program in her hometown of Sacramento, before using connections to start coaching novices for Sacramento State. After a few years, she made the move to the University of California-Davis, a college town just north of San Francisco.
Life was good.
A budget crisis to the UC, though, offered some harsh realities. The school eliminated the rowing program in 2010, and Tavalero was out of a job. She had an inkling the cuts would be made in the athletic department, but the school's decision still left a deep wound.
"It was one of the most painful things that I've been through, rowing-wise," Tavalero said. "To see the girls lose the commitment from the athletic department supporting them in their dreams, to be a rower and to be a collegiate athlete."
Tavalero placed a call to Bob Ernst, the women's coach at Washington. Ernst did not coach Tavalero during her time at UW, but remembered her as one of the hardest-working rowers at the boathouse as a student-athlete. So he offered an internship. Tavalero jumped at the offer, and she and her new husband James - who worked in construction management - packed up and moved to Seattle. After years in California, Tavalero was eager to return to Seattle, a city she enjoyed immensely as a UW student-athlete.
"That's commendable," Ernst said. "And I'll tell you, she's one of the hardest workers and one of the most dedicated people I've ever had working here." Ernst can relate to Tavalero's decision. The long-time Husky boss said he coached for years in California making little to no money.
Yet the pull of coaching is a hard one to resist, and that's the reason Tavalero took a flyer on an internship in Seattle rather than remain in California. She feels she can impart a lot of knowledge, and the passion for the sport still burns inside.
"I think I just love the sport of rowing," Tavalero said. "I'm very passionate about it and, also, being able to give back to the kids and instill that passion for something in them. It doesn't have to be rowing, just the sharing of my experiences."