This weekend, members from both the men’s and women’s varsity crew teams travel to Northern California to participate in the Head of the American fall head race.
The head race (where head race teams have staggered starts, competing only for time) was held at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Rancho Cordova. This was the first of many optional outings for the UC Irvine crews this fall, and served as a training ground to gain needed experience in the competitive atmosphere.
UCI competed in men’s and women’s open four and open eight events, as well as two different sets of women’s doubles, and the mixed eight event. Many of the rowers competed in several different events.
The day began well with the men’s open four-plus taking the water and placing 14th of 27 crews with a time of 19:54.
For UCI, the real importance of the weekend was not the competition. It was the chance to explore the possibilities of this year’s Division One team. The team has only been training four weeks, with this last week’s practice cut due to poor air quality from the wildfires.
For the women, the fires meant going into this first head race of the year without having been on the water for a week. Despite this disadvantage, women’s head coach, Carrie Parsons acknowledged, ‘I was very pleased after not being on the water for a week. Everyone went out and remembered how to row pretty well,’ she said.
The women’s eight-plus boat did run into some difficulty at the starting area. Congestion with other boats caused them to start late and they received a one minute penalty, bumping them from a potential 13th place finish to their 17th place finish with a time of 21:06.
The women’s team has four returning rowers from last year’s varsity team, plus an additional five freshmen that have spring-boarded onto the varsity program. Also moving into varsity this year are 14 novice women who rowed novice for UCI last year.
‘The returnees bring a lot of finesse. The novice and freshmen bring a lot of power,’ Parsons said.
Head races such as this weekend’s Head of the American are all about getting the power and finesse to work together.
On the men’s front, the main event, the eight-plus boat, placed ninth of 18 with a time of 17:22. Head Coach Scott Charette was pleased with this and is focused on learning as much as possible before the season officially begins in the spring.
‘For me, what I want my varsity men to do is manage themselves. A lot of the guys who came up this weekend are in their second year. I don’t give them a race warm up. I don’t tell them what to do on the water. I want them to figure it out. And make a couple mistakes. This is a time to make mistakes and learn,’ Charette said.
When asked about the outlook for the UCI Crew team this year, Parsons believes this year’s team to be one of the fastest women’s team yet.
‘We’ve already passed several of the [time] marks from where we were last year. I am very excited,’ Parsons said.
‘You can win every race in the fall but if you don’t perform well in the spring as far as the world of rowing goes, you’re nothing,’ Charette said.
Last year the men’s varsity placed sixth of the 29 crews in the association. Barring injuries, Charette believes a top three placing is well within reach for the mature crew, and competition within the team to be one of the top eight oarsmen is fierce.
In the final races of the day, the men and women combined to race two mixed eight-plus boats, placing thrid and fourth almost one minute apart.
The variety of boats raced by UCI this weekend was unique to the fall racing season, when the rowers have not yet been officially seated or ranked. Come spring, the most important races will be the men’s and women’s eight-plus boats.
Next week the teams will race again at the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival, where both coaches are expecting to see more improvement from this week’s successes.
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