2006 Women's Rowing Season Outlook
March 8, 2006
Setting goals and achieving them is what the USC women's rowing program is all about. When the husband-and-wife team of Kelly and Zenon Babraj took over the program in 2003, their number one goal was to attain USC's first-ever team bid to the NCAA Championship and take a shot at the national title.
Goal reached. In 2005, USC earned its first NCAA team bid after the Varsity Four clinched the Pac-10 title, giving the Women of Troy the momentum they needed to obtain the bid (a team bid includes a Varsity Eight, Varsity Four and JV Eight boat).
As USC enters the 2006 season with its first goal already accomplished, the Women of Troy look to do themselves one better: to repeat last year's success in taking the team to the NCAAs and to get there by clinching the Varsity Eight Pac-10 title.
'I think our main goal, especially in this transition year, is to be very competitive in the Varsity Eight,' said Zenon, who spent five seasons in the late 1980s coaching the UCLA men's team and led the Bruins to three Pac-10 Championships (1987-89). Together, the Babrajs possess a wealth of national and international coaching experience, including 14 years at the Division I level. Zenon, who coached the Polish National Team from 1978 through 1984, also serves as the Trojans' program director.
The Trojans have made eight consecutive NCAA appearances in individual races and even captured a Varsity Four national championship in their 1998 NCAA debut.
'The Varsity Eight brings in a lot of points and it drives everything forward,' added Zenon. 'We had a good performance last year but the Varsity Eight didn't perform as expected. For the program to move on, we need to have a very fast Varsity Eight that provides us more points as well as a psychological lift.'
Repeating last year's success may be a little more difficult then anticipated.
'We graduated quite a few seniors (seven) from last year,' said Kelly, who served as the women's head coach at UCLA for five seasons (1987-91) and was a three-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year. 'This year's seniors are the gap in our group. They fell in the period right before we came to USC. We only have three seniors this year, so the depth really isn't there that we had last year.'
Although the team may be lacking in depth, the Women of Troy make up for it in character.
'Overall, I think the quality of the athletes is much higher this year,' said Kelly. 'Our first boat last year had a lot of freshman. I feel the group this year is much more cohesive, and they are very unified in their purpose. There is a good camaraderie and they have a real positive attitude this year.'
Last season, the team finished 11th overall at the NCAAs. The Varsity Eight finished 12th at NCAAs and third at the Pac-10s. It also finished third at the San Diego Crew Classic while competing against the top teams on the West Coast. The Varsity Four won the Pac-10 Championships and took sixth place at NCAAs. The JV Eight was 10th at the NCAAs and fourth at the Pac-10 Championships. All three boats advanced to the Pac-10's Grand Finals in all three main events (Varsity Eight, Varsity Four, JV Eight) for the third time in USC history, and for the second consecutive time. USC defeated UCLA, 3-2, in the dual meet for the fourth consecutive year, taking the Varsity Eight and JV Eight races.
This season, the Trojans expect to benefit from the return of 19 varsity letterwinners, including seven members of last season's Varsity Eight lineup and three members of last season's Varsity Four. They include senior Megan Biging (Santa Monica, Calif.), juniors Anna Efremova (Moscow, Russia), Laura McDaniel (Chicago, Ill), Kinga Marciszewska (Warsaw, Poland) and Simone Manhold (Essen, Germany) and sophomores Tatiana Boldyreva (Lipetsk, Russia), Phebe Greenwood (Richmond, Va.), Diana Ivanova Ligita Kaviere (Valmieras Rajons, Latvia), Shelley Koskovich (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Liz O'Neill (Bowden, England).
Zenon is looking to O'Neill at coxswain and Boldyreva at stroke to offer important leadership to the team.
'Liz is a very good coxswain and she will provide important leadership for the racing season,' he said.
'I have high expectations for Tanya in the stroke position. In the past, we have had a lot of good athletes, but we always have a problem finding a good stroke who can provide the edge we need to execute the race. I think Tanya can provide this for us.'
Kaviere and Manhold are the Trojans' returning award winners. In just her first year, Kaviere was named to the 2005 CRCA All-West Region first team. She also helped Lativa to a seventh place finish at the U23 World Championships in the scull. Manhold, a member of the German Junior National Team, was named to the CRCA All-American first team and the All-Pac-10 team in 2005. In 2004, she made the 2004 CRCA All-West Region first team and CRCA All-America second team.
Marciszewska (underclass) and Biging (upperclass) will share captain responsibilities this season, hoping to lead the team through example and commitment.
'A couple of the girls have really stepped up this year,' said Kelly. 'Ligita is very strong, has a lot of experience and is a silent leader. The core rowers from the Varsity Eight boat from last year are really the ones who lead the team. Some of them lead more aggressively and some more quietly just by their actions. They have been really good role models for all the new rowers coming in and have given them the confidence to do something more than they thought they could do.'
There are four athletes making the jump from the 2005 novice roster to this year's varsity squad: sophomores Sinmi Bamghose (Los Angeles, Calif.), Erin Kellogg (Marlborough, Mass.), Amy Sellmyer (Liberal, Ka.) and Lisa Wu (Gainesville, Fla.).
The team kicks off the 2005 racing season when it competes against the University of San Diego at home on February 25. The Trojans then travel up north to take on Sacramento State on March 11 on Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif. The Trojans will then face LMU on March 25. USC will start the month of April at the San Diego Crew Classic (April 1-2) before traveling to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Buckeyes, Michigan State and Tennessee. The regular season will end when USC hosts cross-town rival UCLA in the fifth annual Lexus Gauntlet dual on April 29.
For the third straight season, the Pac-10 Championships will be held on Lake Natoma on May 14. The performance at the conference championships will determine the bids awarded to the NCAA Championships, which will be held on May 26-28 at Lake Mercer in West Windsor, N.J.