Kelly Babraj, a native of Southern California with over 20 years of coaching experience, was named head coach of the USC women's rowing program in June of 2002 and is entering her fifth season at Troy. She and her husband, Zenon, share coaching duties, while Zenon also serves as program director.
"USC is a first-class institution with an incredible group of coaches, athletes and staff," said Kelly. "We feel very honored to be part of such a wonderful tradition of excellence and look forward to the challenge of developing winning crews with each day.
In just their first season, the Babrajs gave USC fans a little taste of whatthey were capable of. The Women of Troy fielded three competitive boats at the 2003 Pac-10 Championships and the Varsity Eight crew earned its fifth-straight at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. At the NCAAs, USC placed sixth in the field -- second only to their program-best fourth-place finish in 2001.
In 2004, USC's Varsity Eight returned to the NCAA Championships for its sixth-straight appearance. Then in 2005, the Varsity Four clinched the Pac-10 Championship, and the Varisty Eight finshed third. These key performances allowed the USC Rowing team to qualify for its first-ever team bid for the NCAA Championsips. The Trojans finished 11th overall, and the Varisty Eight finished 12th. In 2006, although the Women of Troy fell short of earning consecutive NCAA team bids, the Varsity Eight boat still represented the Trojans at the championships, stretching USC's run of NCAA appearances to nine.
Kelly's coaching career began in 1986 as an assistant coach at UCLA (1986), but after only one year she was named head coach of the struggling Bruin program. By 1990, she had led UCLA to victories at the prestigious San Diego Crew Classic and the program's first Pac-10 Championship.
In her five seasons (1987-91) at the helm of the Bruin program, Kelly led UCLA to top-4 finishes at the NCAA Championships in 1990 and 1991, while winning the Pac-10 Championships both seasons. The Bruins' Pac-10 titles marked the only time a school other than Washington had won the championship and, as a result, she earned three straight Pac-10 Coach of the Year awards (1989, 1990 and 1991). UCLA's third-place finish at the 1991 national championships marked the highest finish ever for the Bruins.
That same year, the Bruin varsity crew produced three rowers and a coxswain who were selected to compete at the Pan-Am Games in Cuba and captured a gold medal. Three other members of the squad captured gold medals at the Olympic Sports Festival that year.
While at UCLA, Kelly also placed eight athletes on U.S. National and Olympic Teams, including two world champions. In 1989, she served as the women's sculling coach for the U.S. Junior National Team where she coached several promising athletes, including future World Champion and Olympic medalist Sarah Garner.
Kelly left UCLA at the end of the 1991 season when the program was cut by the athletic department. In 1992, Kelly and Zenon moved to Alaska and opened the Alaska Sports Academy, training individuals and teams in several sports at the high school, collegiate, and elite level. Together they coached a number of athletes who went on to compete on U.S. National teams in their respective sports. The pair left Alaska in 1999 when Zenon was hired as an assistant rowing coach with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the World Championships.
The following year Kelly accepted the head coaching position at William Smith College in Geneva, N.Y., and Zenon took over as head coach at Hobart College (Hobart, a men's private college, is a brother school to William Smith, a women's private college), where the pair spent the three years (2000-02) prior to arriving at USC. Kelly directed the steady improvement of the William Smith rowing program and her efforts led the 2002 squad to a third-place team finish at the first-ever NCAA Division III Rowing Championships. William Smith also had four rowers named to the 2002 CRCA All-America teams.
In 2000, Kelly helped Derith Hart become William Smith's first-ever rowing All-American.
In her three years in Geneva, she led her Varsity Eight crews to the 2000 New York State Rowing Championships and two NCAA appearances (2000 and 2002; before 2002, two Division III teams were invited annually to compete in an all-divisions championship).
Kelly graduated from UCLA in 1985 with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. As a senior captain of the crew team, competing under her maiden name of Kelly Martz, she helped lead the Varsity Fours to the 1985 National Collegiate Championship and a silver medal at the U.S. National Championships later that summer. She was invited to the U.S. National Team camp in 1985 and won the gold medal in the pairs at the U.S. Olympic Festival that summer.
Kelly prepped at Palos Verdes (Calif.) High where she was a team captain and all-league basketball player and swimmer. She also won several triathlons including the Malibu and Yuma triathlons and the USTS Bonelli Lake Series. In 1978 she became the first female lifeguard ever hired at Newport Beach after finishing her training among the top 10 in a field of over 200 men.
Kelly was born on May 15, 1962, in Monrovia, Calif. She and Zenon currently reside in Rancho Palos Verdes with their two children, Arianna (11) and Konrad (6). A year after the birth of Arianna, Kelly won a gold, silver and bronze medal at the Master's National Cross Country Ski Championships.