Women's Rowing 2007 Season Outlook

March 7, 2007

There is a new buzz around the USC women's rowing program this year. As coach Zenon and Kelly Babraj enter their fifth season at the helm, the collection of talent they have assembled is unrivaled by any previous USC crew. All eight of the recruits that the coaches set after have arrived and begun training with a solid core of returning rowers.

The Women of Troy will enter 2007 as one of the most experienced and deepest crews in the Pac-10 with seventeen returning letterwinners from 2006 and one from 2005. Only a year ago, even though the Trojans won nearly all of their races, the close calls and a disappointing finish to the season could have been attributed to inexperience and a lack of depth.

Although the Trojans were not able to secure a team bid to the NCAA Championships in 2006, the at-large bid received by the Varsity Eight boat extends the run of USC appearances in the NCAA Championships to nine consecutive seasons. That Varsity Eight boat brings back six out of eight rowers including two All-Americans. Entering 2006, coaches knew they would endure growing pains as the crew bid farewell to much of the talent that led them in 2005. The impressive record the Varsity Eight compiled last year was more than a pleasant, yet somehow expected surprise.

In 1998, the Trojans' debut in the NCAA Championships, the Varsity Four would claim the National Championship in their event. In 2005, the rowing team received its first ever team-bid to the NCAA Championships. With the level of talent gathered at Troy, coaches, and rowers have many believing that this is the year that USC will break through.

The crew has also developed a truly international visage with the division of domestic rowers and international recruits an evenly balanced fifteen to fifteen. Trojan rowers represent the countries of Sweden, Serbia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic; although because many of the rowers have competed against each other on the international level, there is a comfortable familiarity amongst the crew.

Crossing the finish line first nearly every single time it took to the water, the Varsity Eight was a dominant force to be reckoned with in 2006. Led by coxswain Liz O'Neill, and All-American stroke, Boldyreva, there was little opponents could do to keep up with the speedy Trojans.

The Trojans warmed up early in the season with scrimmages against the University of San Diego, Sacramento State and Loyola-Marymount cruising to unofficial victories in those matches. The crew would realize that its speed was legitimate as it easily dispatched of Clemson on Mar. 25 in San Pedro, Calif. The women followed up that performance by taking second place at the San Diego Crew Classic in Mission Bay, Calif.

After that, the Trojans maintained their winning ways, snatching victories from Michigan and Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, the crews' only major regular season road-trip of 2006. Upon returning to Los Angeles, the Women of Troy got some home-cooking and pulled out a tight race with the Bruins in the annual USC vs. UCLA dual match at the Port of Los Angeles. That win extends the Trojan streak of victories over UCLA to five consecutive dating back to 2002.

The Varsity Eight continued its impressive performance at the Pac-10 Championships taking first in the preliminary round of races and third in the Grand Final to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. The Trojans faced stiff competition at the NCAA Championships, coming in tied for third in a dead heat with Yale and eventually earning the right to compete in the Petite Final. There, the Women of Troy would have to settle for a fifth place finish, this time one and a half seconds behind Yale for an overall finish of eleventh.

Ask the coaches about 2007 and they will tell you that it is difficult to put a finger on who will be the featured performer this season. With such a young crew last year, the expectations are high for the team this year. The level of competition in practice has been elevated with the arrival of a number of world-class recruits and transfer rowers. Even though the infusion of new talent comes at a fast pace, the Trojans are taking every measure to bond the new crew as tightly as it can.

The strong core of experienced rowers returning for the Trojans include many of whom have NCAA championship experience. Most notably, the crew will have the services of a duo of returning All-American selections in juniors Tatiana Boldyreva (Lipetsk, Russia) and Ligita Kaviere (Valmiera, Latvia). Boldyreva enjoyed an extremely productive 2006, occupying the stroke seat in all of the Trojans' races. Holding down the No. 6 seat all season, Kaviere returns stronger and more mature than a year ago, and now as a co-team captain.

The senior class is stacked with power on both sides of the boat with Kinga Marciszewska (Warsaw, Poland), Anna Efremova (Moscow, Russia) and Laura McDaniel (Chicago, Ill.) all bringing their own brand of strength and finesse to the squad. Marciszewska received her second consecutive Pac-10 All-Academic team selection in 2006 while serving as a captain and leading the JV Eight boat from the stroke position all season. Efremova will be an integral piece to team success this season bringing with her, three years of varsity experience.

Both McDaniel and senior co-captain Jessica Smith (Mission Viejo, Calif.) will be in the varsity mix, adding to what already is shaping up to be a fiercely competitive bunch of rowers. Senior coxswain Anna Liberovsky (Rockville Centre, N.Y.) will help shore up the coxswain depth.

With eleven juniors on the roster, the Women of Troy know that their prospects for the future are as bright as ever. Anchoring the juniors will be the All-American pair but the talent behind the duo is a vastly improved group from just a year ago. Transfers Nana Gagatsovi (Krasnodar, Russia) and Anna Specjalska (Wloclawek, Poland) are ready to prove themselves as solid contributors after building up respectively impressive personal resumes on international waters.

After red-shirting the 2006 season, the Trojans will once again benefit from the presence of junior starboard Bara Varekova (Olomouc, Czech Republic). A former All CRCA and All Pac-10 selection, Varekova won't likely go unnoticed as Trojan rowers jockey for positions in the varsity boats. Joining Varekova is red-shirt junior coxswain Lauren Cowan (Los Angeles, Calif.) who will be coxing the Varsity Eight boat in 2007 with the departure of Liz O'Neill. Junior starboard rowers Diana Ivanova (Rousse, Bulgaria) and Dunja Pejcic (Novi Sad, Serbia) also return as part of a boiler room trio that kept the Trojans in front most of last season. Juniors Nichole Fischbach (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.), Phebe Greenwood (Richmond, Va.), and Shelley Koskovich (Los Angeles, Calif.), each will be in the varsity shuffle, possibly contributing from the Varsity Four boat.

The sophomore class is also poised to make some noise this season, some of whom are moving up from the novice ranks. Coxswains Lisa Sabalvaro (San Francisco, Calif.) and Denise Kobashikawa (Honolulu, Hawaii) figure to be neck-and-neck to cox the second Varsity Eight boat, although whoever ends up coxing the Varsity Four will have a more than formidable group of rowers to work with.

Sophomore port Robin Hextrum (Stinson Beach, Calif.) has impressed coaches with her strength and will be in a battle this season to stroke the Varsity Eight. Starboard Magda Madziewicz (Wloclawek, Poland) is a year more experienced and her comfort level in the program is apparent. Other sophomore rowers to keep an eye on this season are Julia McIlvaine (Burbank, Calif.), Cassie Richardson (Yucaipa, Calif.), Claire Tenscher (Mount Shasta, Calif.) and Annie Smythe (San Rafael, Calif.).

The Trojans received commitments from six incoming freshmen this year. Four out of that group enrolled in the fall and began training with the crew right away. Ewelina Nowak (Bydgoszcz, Poland), Gabriela Varekova (Olomouc, Czech Republic), Andrea Vehovec (Belgrade, Serbia) and Michelle Taft (Tacoma, Wash.) each bring a fresh new competitive spirit to the crew. Varekova is the younger sister of Bara Varekova. She is eager to test her mettle on a crew after compiling one of the most impressive personal resumes in the world, most recently capturing her third world title in the summer of 2006.

The remaining two members of this group of much-heralded freshmen join the crew in the spring. Carin Andersson (Stromstad, Sweden) and Liene Bertasjus (Jurmala, Latvia) will help anchor a strong freshman class.

The Women of Troy will get their first chance to test out their speed in a scrimmage against the University of San Diego and San Diego State University on Feb. 24 in San Diego, Calif. The team will travel to Sacramento, Calif. for its annual spring camp on Lake Natoma and conclude that week with a scrimmage against Sacramento State on March 18. In their only home-water race, the Trojans will take on Loyola Marymount on March 24 at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif.

Next, the crew will participate in the 34th Annual San Diego Crew Classic in Mission Bay, Calif. on March 31 and April 1. Later in April (14-15), the team will travel across the country to race in the Charles River Challenge in Boston, Mass. Upon their return, the Women of Troy will do battle with the Lady Bruins in the sixth annual Lexus Gauntlet USC-UCLA dual races to be held in Marina Del Rey, Calif. on April 28.

The Pac-10 Rowing Championships will return to Lake Natoma, Calif. for the fourth consecutive season in 2007, taking place on Saturday, May 13. Team performances at these Pac-10 races will determine the automatic and at-large bids awarded for participation in the 2007 NCAA Rowing Championships, which will be held May 25-27 in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

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