Oct. 24, 2011
SEATTLE - Bob Ernst still hears from national team rowers who thank the long-time Washington coach for his dedication to small-boat training.
The Huskies have long defined their fall development schedule by working out in two-oared boats, which Ernst feels helps his oarswomen gain strength along with improved technique. So it should be no surprise the pair has been a staple of this fall's training at Conibear Shellhouse, perhaps more so than recent years.
Already the Huskies have competed in two pair-dominated events and will head down to California this Saturday to race in the Head of the American in Rancho Cordova. This time around, the Huskies will see markedly better competition, including Pac-12 rivals in USC, California and Stanford.
"The fall program is all about development," Ernst said. "This regatta will be a good measuring stick for us. I think it's going to be a good opportunity for the kids to see where they are."
Ernst likened the regatta to a carrot for his rowers, many of whom are anxious to compete against different opponents the Huskies wouldn't normally see at events like the Head of the Lake. Selection for the race has been intense on Lake Washington, with the program holding a 6K time trial in the pair each week to determine participants.
"We use that as the selection tool to see who gets the go," Ernst said. "It's all about seeing who can improve their technique and fitness, and those who do will earn a spot on the road."
As much as the women's crew program would to bring a win back from California, the development aspect of the trip supersedes that goal. The Huskies are bringing eight rowers and one coxswain to Lake Natoma, where they'll race in their eight before breaking into four pairs for a separate race.
"This trip is an engine that drives the kids' interest in getting good in the pairs," Ernst said. "The pairs are good for us because they improve balance skills, matching skills, and all kinds of technical skills. But since there are only two people in the boat, you get to see how much motivation they are also bringing to the party."
Earlier this month, the Huskies traveled up to Burnaby, B.C., for an impromptu regatta against Canadian competition. The decision to travel up north for the races - also held in pair boats - was partly to help develop skills but also so Ernst could take a look at the newly constructed Burnaby Lake course, which he feels will be one of the best racing venues in North America.
Almost every national team uses small-boat training as a selection process. The reasoning is simple - much like the rowing ergometer, there's nowhere to hide in a pair boat. Either an athlete can move it, or they can't. So when a Washington athlete heads off to selection camp for USRowing or Rowing Canada, they're equipped to handle the rigorous process. This much was proven when Husky alums like Adrienne Martelli and Megan Kalmoe, among others, made selection to the 2011 World Championships in Bled, Slovenia last summer.
"There are some who come back who are like `I'm glad I have those skills otherwise I wouldn't have a medal to hang around my neck right now,'" Ernst said.