Flames' boats loaded for first spring regatta in Georgia
March 22, 2013 | Gainesville, Ga.
Open tryouts in January helped boost Liberty University's men's and women's crew teams from less than 30 members last semester to more than 55 for the spring championship season, which opens Saturday in Gainesville, Ga.
The Flames will compete in the 27th annual John Hunter Regatta, a 16-team event held on the Lake Lanier Olympic Course featured in the 1996 Summer Games in nearby Atlanta.
"The team basically doubled in size over the winter," said first-year head coach Ryan Hurley, who spent the previous seven years as an assistant and head coach at Virginia Tech. "We have a lot of newcomers. Our women's varsity eight-person boat is going to be half freshmen, so we got blessed with some very talented freshmen, and that's same on the men's side, too."
He was surprised by the commitment shown by nearly all of the rowers who turned out.
"People tend to phase themselves out of the sport because of the demands of it," Hurley said, noting the team typically has five workouts and a total of seven or eight training sessions per week, starting at 5:30 a.m. "Over spring break, we actually did three (practices) a day for the duration of the seven days."
But it was a dedicated bunch and few dropped out voluntarily.
"We had 65 kids in the initial tryout phase, which we stretched out to three weeks to see who would stay," Hurley said. "We ended up having to cut the team in half. That way, we were able to hand-pick the roster as opposed to working with what fell in your lap. No one is secure in their seat, which makes everyone work for their spots and push everyone harder."
The influx of quality depth was needed after the team was depleted by graduation last spring.
"We had quite a lot of turnover," Hurley said, noting injuries and academic pressures caused some attrition. "The team is very young, I'd say 70 percent freshmen or first-year rowers. The freshmen have stepped in almost as well as the seniors we lost. They have a very bright future in the sport."
He is eager to see how fast the Flames can fly in their first regatta of the spring.
"We spent two to two and half months in indoor training and finally got in the water over spring break," when the team traveled to Lake Marion in South Carolina, Hurley said. "Everybody's excited to see how the training paid off."
Liberty will enter 12 boats in Saturday's 10-race competition, with preliminary heats in the morning and finals in the afternoon for those that qualify.
Georgia Tech, Clemson, Emory, and Florida State will be four of the fastest teams the Flames will try to keep pace with.
"It will be the first major race for any of the teams there, and a good early-season test to see where everyone's at," Hurley said. "It's going to be tough competition."
All of the races (Women's Varsity 8, Novice 8, Varsity 4, Novice 4, and Lightweight 4, and Men's Varsity 8, Novice 8, Varsity 4, Novice 4, and 2V4) are 2,000 meters long, with the top two boats in each heat advancing to the six-boat final.
The fastest boats in the men's races usually complete the course in less than seven minutes with the women's heats lasting between seven and eight minutes.
"Eight-man boats go faster than four-man boats," Hurley said. "The Men's (Varsity 8) is hoping to get under six (minutes), and the Women's (Varsity 8) is hoping to get into the lower sevens to be in the top six."
He said the Men's Varsity 4 and one of the Men's Novice 4 teams should do well, while the Women's Varsity 8 could have a shot at making the final and the Women's Novice 8 will have a good chance at winning their flight.
"They'll give just about any team they face a run for their money," Hurley said. "Half of the Women's (Novice) 8 also will be in the Women's Varsity 8. It's a big deal that we have freshmen capable of competing on the varsity level."
Liberty senior Casie Schaefer, who will row on the Varsity 8 and the Lightweight 4, is the women's team captain.
"She's only had a year and a half in the sport, but she has excelled, stepped up and put in the hard work to be a leader," Hurley said.
Flames junior Connor Houston, who rowed in high school in Dallas, Texas, is the men's team captain and will compete on the Men's Varsity 4.
After competing in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, the largest two-day regatta in the world, last October, the Flames will travel to the Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia, the largest collegiate regatta in the world with more than 2,000 entries from more than 50 teams, May 11.
"That's the big one we have our eye toward," Hurley said.