2014 USC Women's Rowing Season Outlook
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March 28, 2014
By USC Sports Information Student Assistant Alec Koondel
LOS ANGELES - Last year, the USC women’s rowing team conquered new feats and established itself as a top-tier competitor in collegiate rowing. By the end of the 2013 regular season, the Women of Troy secured top finishes for all three varsity boats in the San Diego Crew Classic, earned second place at the Pac-12 Championships, and made its fifth consecutive team appearance at the NCAA championships to earn a program-best fourth-place finish.
The Trojans showcased their talent at the NCAA championships as all three boats reached grand finals in their respective divisions. The varsity four finished in second place, which is the best a four boat has accomplished under head coach, Zenon Babraj. The second varsity eight claimed fourth place in their grand final, while the varsity eight finished in sixth place.
Together the Trojans’ 110 points secured the fourth-place trophy and helped the team surpass fifth-place finishes by the 2007 and 2011 squads. Current senior stroke Vineta Moca and junior starboard Krisztina Gyimes were each honored with CRCA All-America honors and Babraj was chosen as the CRCA West Region Coach of the Year for the second time in his renowned career. Senior captain, Melanie Grindle topped off the postseason awards by earning USC’s first Pac-12 Women’s Rowing Athlete of the Year distinction.
Considering the incredible accomplishments the Trojans achieved in 2013, the expectations have been set even higher for their 2014 campaign.
This season, the Trojans face unique circumstances. The 2013 varsity eight employed five experienced seniors who have since graduated. With the loss of star rowers Ivana Filipovic, Jelena Zelenovic, Iskra Angelova, Melanie Grindle, and varsity eight coxswain Jennah Blau, Babraj faces the difficult task of assembling a varsity eight boat that can surpass last year’s accomplishments. The Trojans will be challenged to overcome this transition period, which will test their physical and mental skills in order to build a dynamic lineup that features great chemistry and speed.
Now in his 12th year, Babraj is determined to make his 2014 club stronger then any other during his tenure at USC.
“We graduated a lot of internationally experienced rowers, however we have our seniors really stepping up,” said Babraj. “That’s the driving force. Our seniors with our captains, they provide really good leadership and that really brings younger athletes into our team philosophy and we start gaining momentum.”
Babraj has had consistent success recruiting elite international rowers. In USC’s incoming freshman class, Frederike Hackenbroch, Svenja Jonas, and Gitta Kivilaan have each had successful international rowing careers. Jonas and Hackenbroch have prior experience rowing together in Limburger, Germany. In 2012, during a regatta in Cologne, Jonas and Hackenbroch won gold in a coxless pair. The two have developed great chemistry, which Babraj hopes will transition to their sanguine success at USC.
“We need the younger rowers to check in, and that momentum is developing, so it’s very exciting,” said Babraj.
While the freshman class will have a noticeable presence this season, the returning sophomores will be pushed to further improve on their 2013 success, and lead the freshman by example.
“Besides the seniors, the sophomore class will carry the weight for this upcoming season, especially for the top boats,” said Babraj.
The sophomore class includes Keret Einaste, Darian DiCianno, captain Lindsay Gibson, Kamali Houson, Madera Strautmane, and Deirdre Fitzpatrick. Together, the sophomore rowers will mix in with the juniors and seniors to create a new dynamic lineup.
DiCianno, a starboard rower who rowed with the silver-medal winning varsity four last season is a really talented rower and is getting better by the day, according to Babraj.
Returning V8 starboard Einaste is a top rower for the sophomore class with plenty of international experience. Einaste rowed for Rowing Club Parnu where she won the 2011 Estonian national title and holds the second best ergometer time for the Trojans behind All-American Gyimes.
The All-American impact of Gyimes and Moca is a huge positive for the Trojans’ varsity eight. As a two-time winner, Moca has established herself at the stroke seat and possesses great rhythm, and an ability to set the tone for the rest of the boat. As an experienced junior, Gyimes is a powerful force, leading the starboard side of the varsity eight last year. Honored with the Hungarian Rower of the Year Award in 2012, Gyimes has a wealth of international experience, and a resume that includes two silver medals in the World Rowing Championships.
“[Gyimes] is only getting better,” said Babraj. “She has high aspirations, not only at the college level, but possibly to the height of the Olympics, and she’s a very driven athlete. Her work ethic becomes contagious and she gets the younger athletes excited about rowing.”
The junior class features team captain, Katherine Gleadow who rowed port for the varsity four in 2013, and Elizabeth Turner who has been a mainstay in the 2V8 the last two seasons. Turner rowed starboard-bow during her sophomore year and is a candidate to replace the departed Grindle who held the V8 bow seat for each of the last two years.
Junior port Eglit Vosu rowed in the second varsity eight her freshman year, and then rowed in the V4 last season. Vosu is currently competing to return to the 2V8. Topping off the junior class are Shelby Adiar, and coxswains Kellyn Freire and Paige Fernandes.
Although the squad is predominantly underclassman, the seniors will be the driving force in 2014. While Moca herself has received numerous accolades during her career at USC, her fellow seniors are skilled rowers including, Jelena Miladinovic, Madelyn Walters, and Rebecca Shaffer.
Miladinovic is competing for a starboard spot in the top boat after rowing in the 2V8 in 2013. Shaffer spent some time at starboard in 2013, and is in the mix to lead the starboard side of the 2V8 this season. Rounding out the senior class are Erica Christianson and Kajsa Olsson.
“Shaffer is doing a really nice job in re-stroking the boats and has really nice rhythm,” said Babraj.
Determining spots in all three varsity boats will not be easy as there are many holes to fill. The Trojans’ graduated rowers were athletes with deep international experience.
“This team has to create new momentum,” said Babraj. “By developing younger athletes and having the seniors driving for their last year with great enthusiasm, they can create a new team. It’ll take some time, but we have the pieces in place. Our captains are a big piece of that. Gibson is outgoing, very energetic, and brings a fire to the team. Gleadow is intellectual, hard-working, and she brings that leadership on the water and to everyday practice.”
Gibson and Gleadow face the task of bridging the gap between the seniors and younger rowers. As of mid-march, Babraj had already started to see some positive changes from last year thanks to the two captains.
“The atmosphere is great. It’s very upbeat,” said Babraj. “The team is learning very fast so as the season progresses, it will be very exciting to see how they develop.”
This year’s squad is hopeful on improving its overall technique. With a new mix of rowers, Babraj’s goal is to build speed over time with a little less experience compared to last year’s team. Development will be the key going into the Pac-12 Challenge on March 29. As the start of the year approaches, Babraj is still mixing and matching the rowers amongst the top varsity boats. The team’s isolated spring break training retreat serves as a great opportunity to mix the lineups and find the right combination; one that will give each boat the right chemistry and speed.
“We haven’t decided if it will be port side stroke, or starboard side stroke,” said Babraj. “So we will check the combination on the race course and see which is faster.”
A pair of experienced coxswains returns for the Trojans in Fernandez and Freire. Both juniors are being tested to fill the hole left by Blau. Fernandez had success with the varsity four last season, leading the boat to a second-place finish at the NCAA championships. Freire returns after coxing the 2V8 in 2013. Fernandez and Freire will likely be slotted in with V8 and 2V8 boats. The Trojans can also call on the talents of freshman Kaelyn Ibold and senior Jaclyn Walles at the coxswain position.
Since Babraj took over the program, the Trojans have been annual contenders in the Pac-12, and are consistently ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Last year, the nation’s top 10 included five Pac-12 schools: California, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, and the Women of Troy. Babraj believes that these four crews will again be the main targets for the Trojans when they reach the Pac-12 Championships in May.
“If we do well in the Pac-12, then obviously we can and will compete nationally,” said Babraj.
The Trojans begin their 2014 campaign in Redwood City, Calif., March 29-30 for the Pac-12 Challenge. April will be a busy month for the team. USC competes in the prestigious 41st-annual San Diego Crew Classic (April 5-6), at the Lake Natoma Invitational (April 12-13), and will face Stanford in a dual meet on April 26. On May 3, the Trojans host rival UCLA for a dual meet at the Port of Los Angeles. USC returns to Gold River, Calif., for the 2014 Pacific Coast Rowing Championships and the Pac-12 Championships May 17-18. The Trojans hope to qualify for their sixth straight NCAA Championship regatta set to be held at Eagle Creek, Ind., May 30-June 1.
The Trojans’ goals for 2014 are to surpass last year’s accomplishments and continue to qualify for nationals. While last year the Trojans were chosen for the NCAA Championships for the seventh time in school history, the stakes are now higher than ever. Babraj has proven to be a progressive coach with the Trojans. Perhaps this year, something fresh is brewing in the Port of Los Angeles that will lift the Trojans higher then any other crew that has ever rowed at USC.