Feb. 2, 2000
A refined coaching philosophy accompanied by a new program motto aims to launch the 2000 Washington State University women's rowing team past its sixth place finish in the Pac-10 Championships last season and back into the recently evasive NCAA Championships.
The motto, "Four years of memories, a lifetime of opportunities" completes a heightened dedication from coaches and team members to build team cohesion, further develop technical skills, and as always, earn a trip back to NCAA racing. Add a ten-year coaching milestone and you have the ingredients for a transformed 2000 women's rowing program.
Entering their tenth year coaching together, Varsity coach Tammy Crawford and Novice coach Jodi Winchell have been associated with women's rowing since the sport first became a varsity program at WSU in 1990. Accompanied by second-year assistant coach Michelle Kistler, each maintains an advanced commitment to improving the program, as all three are former Cougar rowers.
Providing a healthy core of leadership, six athletes return from last year's varsity boat to compete with the Cougars. Including senior coxswain Autumn Miller, returning are seniors Lisa Phillips and Liz Snook, juniors Sarah Allen and Amy Armstrong, and sophomore Emily Larson. Other top contenders for seats in the varsity eight boat are junior Dina deNys, sophomores Jackie Kern and Nicole Windau, and freshmen Corrie McGrath and Naomi Turnbull.
Crawford expects McGrath and Turnbull could play key roles within the varsity eight. She hopes the combination of returning leadership and experience with the raw athleticism of the younger athletes will pay off. However Crawford stresses that no seat is ever secure.
"It's like the starting five in basketball, it can change all the time," Crawford said. "Those freshmen spots aren't secure but right now I put them ahead of the others because I think they're `scrappier' and performing better athletically."
Contention from freshmen for varsity seats has become a common trend over the past three years and is an indication to Crawford that the WSU program is doing a better job recruiting. After a limited fall racing schedule, the Cougars will hit the water again February 5.
Crawford is anxious to get the team back on the river after returning from what she felt was undoubtedly the best training they had experienced in the three years the Cougars have been attending the training camp at Lake Natoma. Using a fleet of pairs (boats) and competing in a majority of side-by-side racing Crawford was also able to thoroughly evaluate individual strengths and progresses, and has in turn set seat racing for boat selection to take place in mid February.
Anticipating a competitive Pac-10 conference, the varsity eight team has set a season goal to finish third in the Pac-10, the minimum place needed to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Last year WSU finished behind Washington, California, USC and Oregon State in Pac-10 competition after being ranked 12th nationally.
"We haven't been to nationals in two years and I'm not sure our athletes can exactly fathom the level of NCAA competition," Crawford said. "But they are working hard and have set goals I think are realistic which also shows the maturity of this team."
Crawford and the Cougars look to test their optimism at San Diego Crew Classic Race in April. The race will feature the top six boats from both the East and West Coasts and is considered by many to be the "National Championship in April."
However, the 2000 schedule truly starts with indoor erg races February 12, against Gonzaga. On April 22 varsity squads will meet competition in Lancing, Mich., marking the first time the team has ever traveled back east.
Though she admits the program has been struggling the past few years, Crawford is optimistic this season will be more successful, largely due to the overall change in team attitude. And as building team cohesion has become the basis her new coaching philosophy, Crawford's strategy seems to be working as she reports team moral and unity are the highest she's seen in the past three years.
"Like this year, last year was very competitive and could have gone either way. We went to the bottom because of a lack of trust and respect, but we have a different team this year," said Crawford. "I'm not putting all our eggs in one basket, but at the same time there's something to be said about chemistry and trusting each other that you can pull out the unexpected. And like I said, we're a different team this year."