New head coach has supportive crew on hand for first race
October 1, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Former Liberty University varsity coxswain Sarah Morris has a lot on her shoulders as she takes over the helm of the men's and women's crew teams this fall.
But she's not alone, as she has solicited the volunteer assistance of two of her rowers, senior team managers Connor Houston and Mitchell Dieudonne, and received additional support from team captains Joel Buckhalt and Haley Halstead and assistant team captains Robert Newman and Rachel Waldo.
"They've been helping with communications and getting the team on board with what I need them to be doing," said Morris, who was a coxswain for Liberty's men's varsity teams after helping to start the program her freshman year, in the Spring 2009 semester. "I loved every minute of it. It's been great."
She served as the assistant novice coach last season before being promoted to take the place of Ryan Hurley over the summer.
"There's been a steep learning curve, but Club Sports has done a great job of taking me step by step in everything," said Morris, who grew up in South Africa as the daughter of missionaries. "It's definitely a lot of work, but it's been amazing to be back. The team's great to work with and it hasn't been too hard of an adjustment."
She and her 25 varsity rowers have become accustomed to waking up at 4:30 a.m., before the sun rises, for weekday practices from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. at Ivy Lake in Bedford County. Liberty's 32 novice rowers do their workouts in the same lake as the sun is setting, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
They are dedicating their season to Sarah McKeown, who died last month before the start of her senior year. The Flames have her picture up in their team room and will use her memory as motivation to race with everything they have to offer, Morris said.
On Friday morning, Morris and a total of 14 team members — three of Liberty's four-rower boat crews, and two coxswains — will leave for Pittsburgh, Pa., to compete in their first regatta of the fall, the Head of the Ohio hosted by the Three Rivers Rowing Association.
"I'm really excited for our first race," Morris said. "I think it will go really well. The team has really stepped up to form a family and compete well. The varsity team is propelling well, moving very quickly on the water."
One of 11 collegiate programs signed up for the regatta, Liberty only will be entering boats in three of the 67 scheduled races — the varsity men's open 4 at 8:35 a.m., the varsity women's open 4 at 1:35 p.m., and the men's collegiate novice 4 at 3:25 p.m.
The other participating collegiate teams are from Cleveland State, Duquesne, John Carroll, Marietta (Ohio), Robert Morris (Pa.), Maryland, Pittsburgh, Virginia Commonwealth, West Virginia, and Western Reserve (Ohio).
Morris said the relatively small regatta should help prepare the Flames for the Oct. 19 Head of the Charles in Boston, Mass.
"It will be a test for that big event, which is the largest crew race in America."
Three of the Flames' four varsity men's open 4 rowers competed at the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) Championships, May 25 in Gainesville, Ga. — Buckhalt, Newman, Sam Knauss, as well as coxswain Taylor Hardin. They will be joined by sophomore Peter Eleutheriou.
Liberty's women's varsity open 4 will feature Kylie Peterson, Anouk Beuerle, Catherine Dyer, Rachel Williams, and coxswain Ron Beimel, with Williams the only new varsity member after moving up from novice last year.
Liberty will be taking the same varsity men's and slightly different women's four boats to compete in the Head of the Charles event in two weeks.
"We decided to keep it small so we could get on top of everything before conquering some races at the end of the year," Morris said of the Nov. 2 Head of the Occoquan in Sandy Park Run, Va., and the Nov. 9 Head of the South, in Augusta, Ga. "For the last two races, we will bring everybody on the team and have them enter multiple races, probably using eight boats — four fours and four eights."
For more information about each of the four races on Liberty's fall schedule, visit Regattacentral.com.