Flames test waters in first regatta of championship season
March 23, 2013 | Gainesville, Ga.
Competing in the John Hunter Regatta on the Lake Lanier Olympic Course in Gainesville, Ga., site of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Liberty University's men's and women's crew teams experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in their first event of the semester Saturday afternoon.
"The Womens Varsity 8 got off to a terrible start," Flames head coach Ryan Hurley said of the team that includes four freshmen rowers. "They had an oar get stuck in the water. In rowing terms, that's called a crab and it almost takes the boat to a stop. Fortunately, it was early in the race and they were able to compose themselves. Once they got their rhythm back, they worked beautifully and made up a ton of ground from where they were. It was not enough to move into the finals, but it was something positive to take from that."
On much higher notes, Liberty's Women's Lightweight 4, led by coxswain Anna Hickman and rowers Casie Schaefer, Abigail Lenz, Brianna O'Neal, and Rachel Gooss, earned a silver medal and the Women's Freshmen 4 struck gold in their respective divisions.
The Lightweight 4, featuring women weighing 140 pounds or less, included two crew members from the Varsity 8 and two from the Freshman 8. In a four-boat race, the only team to beat the Lady Flames was from Wisconsin, one of the top-ranked teams in the nation.
"They're usually in the top three," Hurley said. "That's a talented bunch. They had some form of medal in most of the divisions. We're a young team, working toward having that type of consistency."
Liberty's Freshman 4, which beat six other boats to the finish line, featured three women who only learned how to row two weeks ago — coxswain Krystal Baines and rowers Kate Powell and Ellen Kearnes. Catherine Dyer and Anouk Beuerle were the only two from that squad with experience from the fall.
"A good half of our team is almost brand new as of this winter," Hurley said. "It's been a fun adventure to try to get them going this quickly. We had 12 boats entered, which was on par with some of the larger schools. We've got the numbers. Now, we've just got to get some more experience."
He was satisfied with the team's first outing, against competition that was "right on par with what I expected," Hurley said. "Overall, it was OK. It was a learning experience, our first race of the season. There were a lot of first-race jitters that we'll work through in the next race."
Some of those may have been induced by an electrical storm that postponed the start of the regatta by four hours.
"Weather was a huge factor," Hurley said. "Due to lightning all morning, the first race didn't happen until noon and then they ran a very condensed and rapid-fire schedule, with the last race starting at 5:20 p.m. It makes for a long day when you show up for a race at 6:30 a.m. and don't actually leave until 6 p.m."
In the men's competition, Liberty's Varsity 4 finished third in its heat, about 10 seconds behind second-placed Duke, with the top two moving onto the final.
"That was a very good row for them," Hurley said. "They were in a tough heat with good competition. We were right with them. If we row a cleaner race, make some small changes, we'll be right up there. They walked away from it knowing they can definitely get faster. They showed they're going to be very competitive this year. They've got something to look forward to on the next race."
That will be the Knecht Cup, April 13 on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.
"We learned a lot from this one," Hurley said. "We've got three weeks until our next race. Especially with new rowers, in three weeks, you can make large changes."
The competition in New Jersey is going to be much stiffer, especially on the women's side where there will be a handful of Division I teams. The men, meanwhile, will meet some of the top clubs from the Northeast, which will test their mettle before going to the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association (SIRA) Championship Regatta, April 20-21 in Oak Ridge, Tenn.