Rowing Ready To Face Challenges Of 2003 Season
Feb. 21, 2003
To an outsider, the USC women's rowing program may seem to be in fine shape, but the Trojans can always be better. It's this new attitude that has Troy buzzing about first-year head coaches Kelly and Zenon Babraj.
The Babraj's, who combined possess a wealth of international and national coaching experience, including 11 years at the Division I level, were named co-head coaches of the Women of Troy in June of 2002. Zenon will also serve as program director. Now it is their job to see that the USC rowing program takes the next step towards success.
'Our main objective is to try to build an entire team,' said Kelly, who served as women's head coach at UCLA for five seasons (1987-91) and was a three-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year. 'Our biggest goal is to have the whole team qualify for the NCAA Championships. To do so, we must bring the level of the other boats up to that of our Varsity Eight.'
'We are looking to change the focus of the program,' added Zenon, who also spent six seasons coaching the Bruins' men's team and led UCLA to three Pac-10 Championships (1987-89). 'We want to change the way we recruit. We want to have an entire team of excellent athletes who can maintain a high level of performance at every stage.'
USC's strength over the past few years has been the numerous accomplishments of its Varsity Eight crew, which has made four-straight NCAA appearances, captured the 2001 Jessop Whittier Cup and finished as high as No. 4 nationally (2001). Last season, the Varsity Eight finished eighth overall at the NCAAs and fifth at the Pac-10 Championships.
The Trojans have been represented at the NCAAs each year since 1998, including a Varsity Four National Championship that first season, but have never qualified as a team (a team bid includes a Varsity Eight, Varsity Four and JV Eight boat).
'Coming into this job, we both felt like the program here was a sleeping giant,' said Kelly, who guided William Smith College to a third-place finish at the first-ever NCAA Division III Championships in 2002, prior to coming to USC. 'We were convinced that USC had the potential to be one of the top programs in the country, but its potential had not been maximized. It may take some time, but I know that we can really do a good job here.'
The introduction of an entirely new coaching staff is never a simple transition. While the Babrajs know that the Trojans will be competitive this year, they do realize that changes take time. In order to re-focus the program and its athletes, it will take some patience in this time of transition.
'We are looking at this year as a rebuilding year because whenever you bring in a new coaching staff it always takes a while to get things settled,' said Zenon, who coached the U.S. National Team for six seasons (1986-90, 1999). 'This year we are going to take some time before we decide who will be rowing in what boat.
'Our Varsity Eight will still be made up of our best rowers, but the final selections of the boats will be delayed. We want to spend the first part of the season trying to figure out where each athlete fits best and to see who works well together.
'We will evaluate the boats in the early regattas and move some people around. That way, we will be well-prepared for the Pac-10 Championships in May.'
This season, the Trojans expect to benefit from the return of 14 varsity letterwinners, including six returning members of its 2002 Varsity Eight lineup. These six athletes (five rowers and one coxswain) - seniors Jeanne De Lapoyade (Bergerac, France), Katrin Gleie (Lyngby, Denmark) and Marketa Vochoskova (Trebon, Czech Republic), juniors Andrea Korom (Palic, Yugoslavia), Andria Shook (Redlands, Calif.) and Melissa Zimel (Portland, Ore,) - can all provide a strong foundation to this year's team thanks to their varied national and international experience.
Redshirt senior Gleie is probably the most experienced of the group, having rowed with Denmark's Quad team at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Denmark finished sixth in the field. For the past two seasons, Gleie has rowed starboard for the Women of Troy Varsity Eight.
'Katrin is the team's most experienced rower and everyone looks up to her for that,' said Kelly. 'It is a benefit for us to have someone like her on the water.'
Vochoskova, a senior, is also entering her third year rowing with the Varsity Eight. A four-year member of the Czech National Team, her experience and stability is crucial to the Trojans' success. She, along with sophomore Kate Kaso (Alameda, Calif.), will serve as the team's captains as selected by their teammates.
'Marketa is the type of athlete who is very important to have on a team because she brings a lot of positive energy to her teammates,' said Zenon, a former oarsman for the Polish National Team (1969-78). 'Athletes like her, those who also possess excellent skills, bring the team together.'
'Just like Marketa, Kate is also very dedicated to her team,' said Kelly. 'She is a committed athlete who works hard and cares a lot about her teammates.'
De Lapoyade and Korom, both second-year members of the Varsity Eight boat, have also shown that they will play an integral role in 2003.
'Andrea is the kind of athlete we would like to fill this program with,' said Zenon. 'She is always performing at a high level, is extremely committed and does so without much attention.'Like her, Jeanne has also shown us that she can work very hard. She has great skills and a good work ethic.'
Joining Shook, Zimel and Kaso as second-year varsity letterwiners are Lauren Buford (Hayward, Calif.), Amanda Cross (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), April Hudlett (Orlando, Fla.), Sarah Meade (Oklahoma City, Okla.), Julia Miles (Arcadia, Calif.), Jessica Patterson (Larkspur, Calif.), Maria Tovar (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Margeaux Witte (St. Paul, Minn.).
'April Hudlett is an extremely talented rower who has done a great job for the team this year. She is an athlete who has exceptional technical skills and she will have a huge impact this year.'
The 2003 varsity squad welcomes transfers Anne Molholm (Dublin, Ohio) and Sarah Pomeroy (Simsburry, Conn.). Both rowed with the Varsity Eight at William Smith College last season under Kelly Babraj and led the Herons to a second-place finish at the Division III NCAA Championships in 2002. Pomeroy earned CRCA Division III All-American second team honors.
'Both of these rowers bring an East Coast-type of work ethic that is good to have on the team,' said Zenon.
'Sarah, for example, is an athlete who came from a Division III school with no expectations of a scholarship, but just because she loves rowing,' said Kelly, a three-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year (1989-91) at UCLA. 'It has been an incredible jump to go to the Division I level for Anne and Sarah, but they have made outstanding progress and have stepped up to the challenge.'
Making their USC debut this season with the varsity squad are freshmen Megan Biging (Santa Monica, Calif.) and Christina Brinck (Essen, Germany), as well as first-year coxswain Liz Zeanah (Gainesville, Fla.). Brink comes to USC after having rowed with the German Junior National Team for the past two years.
'Christina Brinck is a great athlete to help build the future of this program on,' said Zenon. 'She is very good technically and possesses an outstanding work ethic and professionalism.'
Five athletes are making the jump from the 2002 novice roster to this year's varsity squad, led by Brenda Bower (Palouse, Wash.), Kate Donovan (Manchester, N.H.), Brittany Mohr (Pasadena, Calif.), Krystal Sly (Taylorsville, Utah) and Kathryn Weslow (San Francisco, Calif.).
'There are so many hard-working women on this team, especially the ones who have not had much attention since the came to USC,' said Kelly. 'They are all big contributors and are critical to the success of this program.'
'We have so many great athletes, which is why we will take our time this year in deciding who will fill each boat,' said Zenon. 'We want to refine our boats between the races. This way we will be ready for the Pac-10 Championships and hopefully have our best opportunity to qualify for the NCAAs as a team.'
The success of the novice squad plays a major role in the success of the Babraj's team-centered program. The Babrajs want the novice rowers to be competitive and strive for a position on the varsity squad. For this reason, Craig Webster was hired as the Babrajs assistant coach. Webster will focus primarily on the novice squad and the Varsity Four boat.
'We were very careful in picking Craig to join our staff,' said Kelly. 'We wanted someone we could trust with the development of these athletes because the novices are what will make this program excel.'
'We want the novice athletes to see their role as a first step to the varsity program,' said Zenon, who coached the Polish National Team from 1978 through 1984. 'We want to train rowers with potential to make the jump. Craig's quality of coaching will contribute to the strength of the varsity and we know that he will find great athletes and train them well.'
The Babrajs are no strangers to success. From coast-to-coast, and even a brief stint in Alaska running their own sports academy, their enthusiasm and dedication to the sport has been no secret. This season they begin a new era of USC rowing, one that is bred with hard work and top-level performance. The plan seems simple enough, but the expectations are high for the 2003 Women of Troy.
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