Liberty men conclude season at ACRA Championships in Ga.
May 25, 2013 | Gainesville, Ga.
First-year head coach Ryan Hurley expects Liberty University's men's and women's crew teams to chart new waters next season if they can stay the course with their current rosters.
"If they all come back, this team is in really good shape going forward next year," he said, noting 26 men and 22 women have committed to return to row on next year's squad, not counting incoming freshmen and new recruits. "It will give us the depth of a Michigan or a Virginia."
Hurley is confident it will only be a matter of time, and effort, before they start to match not only the size, but also the strength of those perennial club powers in the sport.
"They're starting to feel that expectation," he said. "Based on what we have coming back, we should see a women's eight boat ranked in the top 10 in the nation for clubs next year. For the men, that's a tall order, but we could flirt with having a varsity eight boat ranked in the top 10 as well. The next step is to see that it's realistic and to actually put in the work to make that an attainable goal."
This past weekend, the Flames' men entered two boats in the season-ending American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships, held on the same 2,000-meter course as the 1996 Summer Olympic rowing events on Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Ga.
Though neither the men's novice four or men's varsity lightweight four reached Sunday's grand finals, both boats held their own against some stiff competition. Michigan captured its sixth consecutive ACRA men's team championship Sunday.
"The novice team even said it was a great experience for them to see a championship race, which is the culmination of all of their year's worth of training," Hurley said. "The good news is there's no one there that was graduating and this was just a portion of the team."
That boat featured coxswain Krystal Baines and rowers Sam Knauss, Rob Heinke, Robert Newman, and Tyler Niblett, who struggled with a muscular strain in his back that he suffered in the same car accident that injured Kate Powell before the May 10-11 Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia.
The Flames finished last in their second heat to barely miss qualifying for the B final after taking fourth in their opening row in 7 minutes, 45.9 seconds.
Meanwhile, the men's lightweight foursome of Mitch Dieudonne, Maurice Jackson, Joel Buckholt, and Augusto Chavez, plus coxswain Taylor Hardin, came in fifth in their opening race in 7:22.8, just missing the cut to advance to the second heat.
"The lightweight varsity four had a good showing, with a faster time, but it was in a stronger field," Hurley said.
Next year, with better numbers to work with, Liberty plans to enter more eight-member boats and fewer fours in the championship events.
"We're shifting our focus to the top varsity eight on both sides," Hurley said. "The goal of any program is to focus on the top varsity eights as opposed to the varsity fours. We'll have more depth, so there will be more competition to get into them, with a lot of people competing for a few seats."