The top-ranked USC women's rowing team finished second by just a point and a half at the Pac-12 Championships
The Women of Troy improved to 12-0 all-time in their rivalry dual against the Bruins with a 6-1 win on Saturday
Quotes from USC women's rowing head coach Zenon Babraj
USC's varsity eight boat cleared the finish line ahead of Cal and Stanford to give the Trojans Natoma's crown
The sixth-ranked Trojans' varsity boats each won grand finals in their events
The 2007 Pac-10 Women's Rowing Coach of the Year who has long list of accomplishments at the international and national levels, Zenon Babraj enters his 11th season as director and head coach of the USC women's rowing program in 2012-13.
In his eighth year with the program Babraj guided USC to one of its best seasons in school history. The Trojans, which sent all three boats to the NCAA Championships for the fourth time and for the second year in a row, qualified two boats in the NCAA Grand Finals for the first time. USC's Varsity Eight took sixth while the Varsity Four was fourth.
Babraj and his wife, Kelly, were first hired as co-head coaches of the Trojans' program in June of 2002. The pair took over as only the second coaching staff in USC history since rowing was first adopted as a scholarship sport at Troy in 1996.
Babraj was instrumental in USC's finest women's rowing season in program history in 2007, produced a solid season in 2008 and then qualified all three boats to the NCAA Championships in 2009, earning its third team bid in program history.
Continuing to build his legacy at USC, Babraj led the Trojans to their second Jessop-Whittier Cup Championship at the San Diego Crew Classic, a Pac-10 Varsity Eight Championships, and the team's first ever Pac-10 Rowing Championship in 2007. The conference crown catapulted the Women of Troy to their second team appearance at the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships and the Varsity Eight's 10th consecutive trip. There, the Trojans would also enjoy their most successful showing in program history with the Varsity Four and JV Eight each winning their petite finals, finishing in seventh overall, while the Varsity Eight took third in the grand final, barely edged out of first by less than three seconds. The team's performance would earn the Trojans a fifth-place overall finish. In recognition of his crews success in 2007, Babraj was also named the CRCA West Region Coach of the Year and Pac-10 Women's Rowing Coach of the Year.
After qualifying with the Varsity Eight boat at the 2008 NCAA Championships, Babraj guided the Varsity Eight, Second Varsity Eight and Varsity Four to the 2009 NCAAs, where the Trojans finished 11th overall out of 16 teams. The 2009 season marked the first year schools had to qualify as a team. USC was third in both the Varsity and Second Varsity Eight Petite Finals and fifth in the Varsity Four Petite Final.
Success however, is no stranger to Babraj. In just his first season, he gave USC rowing fans a glimpse of what was to come. The Women of Troy fielded three competitive boats at the 2003 Pac-10 Championships and the Varsity Eight earned its fifth straight at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. At those championships, USC placed sixth in the field; a finish that ranked 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 Varsity Eight finished third. These key performances allowed the Trojans to qualify for its first ever team bid to the NCAA Championships. While the Varsity Eight finished 12th in its event, the Trojans capped their first team trip to the national championship regatta with an 11th-place team finish overall. In 2006, although the Women of Troy fell short of earning consecutive NCAA team bids, however, the Varsity Eight still represented the Trojans at the championships, stretching USC's run of NCAA appearances to nine at the time.
A native of Warsaw, Poland, Babraj was a member of the Polish National Rowing Team for 10 years (1969-78) as both a sweep oarsman and sculler. In 1978, he was named head coach of the SKRA Warsaw club program and also assumed responsibilities as director of the Olympic Training Center. During his tenure, he led his crews to nine national championships and saw 15 of his athletes selected to Poland's National and Olympic teams.
In 1984, under martial law, Babraj defected to the United States and made his first stop in Seattle, Wash., where he served as a volunteer assistant coach at Washington under legendary Husky head coach Dick Erickson for one season.
He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the spring of 1985 where he would become the director of the Cincinnati Rowing Club. During his time there, the CRC became a designated National Training Center and Babraj helped organize the National Championship Regatta. In the summer of 1986, he accepted his first position with the U.S. National Team as an assistant coach.
Babraj would later coach at Brown University and in 1986, led his freshman crews to the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Championship in the eight and four events. That summer, Babraj returned to the U.S. National Team where he coached the pre-elite crews to gold and silver medals at the U.S. Olympic Festival.
In the summer of 1986, Babraj would return to the west coast, as the men's rowing program director at UCLA, taking over a then floundering program. In his five years with the Bruins (1987-91), he led the men to an unprecedented three straight Pac-10 Championships (1987-89) and earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year accolades each of those seasons. UCLA's 1987 Pac-10 Championship was the schools first in 17 years, while the 1988 title marked the first repeat in the 55-year history of the program. In 1990, Babraj guided the Bruins to a bronze medal at the Collegiate National Championships, marking the highest finish ever by a UCLA crew.
While at UCLA, he produced seven National Team athletes and three Olympians. In 1987, Babraj also served as an assistant coach for the U.S. at the World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, helping lead the eights to a gold medal. In 1989 he served as head coach for the World University Games held in Duisburg, Germany.
When funding for the UCLA varsity program was cut in 1992, Babraj and his wife Kelly moved to Alaska and opened the Alaska Sports Academy together, 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 Babraj was again hired as an assistant rowing coach with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the World Championships.
Babraj turned down a permanent position with the National Team in 2000 to instead rebuild a struggling program at Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. At the same time, Kelly accepted the head coaching position at William Smith College (Hobart, a men's private college, is a brother school to William Smith, a women's private college), where the pair spent three years (2000-02). Babraj led the Statesmen to two undefeated seasons (2001-02) and his crews finished as the top Division III team at the 2002 Head of the Charles and Stonehurst Invitational.
Babraj holds a master's degree in physical education and a rowing coaching diploma from the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw, Poland. He earned a general certificate of education from the Engineering College in Warsaw in 1974. In 1973, while attending Engineering College, he was honored with the City of Warsaw Award for saving a woman's life. Babraj also served in the Polish Special Forces and was named a top cadet in 1979.
Born in Warsaw on Sept. 1, 1954, he and his wife Kelly currently reside in Rancho Palos Verdes with their two children, Arianna (16) and Konrad (12). Babraj is the 1985 World Master's Champion in rowing and the 1997 U.S. Master's National Champion in cross-country skiing.