Rowers set pace at Head of the Occoquan, training goals for spring sprint season
With much more than a skeleton crew available for its only in-state regatta of the fall semester, the Head of the Occoquan on Nov. 5, Liberty University’s rowing team competed well against a relatively small field of college and university programs on the 5,000-meter course.
“It was actually really good competition, and we definitely held our own against teams like Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia,” Liberty Head Coach Debbie Prowse said.
Liberty’s Men’s Varsity 4 crossed the finish line fourth out of 11 boats in 20 minutes, 26.33 seconds, a split second behind the third-place team from VCU. That crew featured a lineup of senior coxswain Callie Perini, junior stroke Kurt Herbert, sophomore rower John Bailey, freshman Jackson Mellish, and bow seat sophomore David West.
The Lady Flames’ Women’s Varsity 8, meanwhile, finished fifth out of 11 teams in 21:22.78, led by junior coxswain Allysa Horne, graduate stroke Brielle West, senior Robin Payton (7 seat), sophomores Jada Lane (6) and Kimberly Lowtzenheiser (5), junior substitute Devyn Bayle (4), sophomores Elizabeth Grace Norris (3) and Rachel Teague (2), and freshman replacement bow Evelyn Edwards.
“They had a really nice finish,” Prowse said, noting that Bayle and Edwards were both novices who had just learned to row this semester. “They have picked it up rather quickly. We appreciated them jumping in the varsity boat so we could row and they stepped up and did very well.”
Meanwhile, Liberty’s Women’s Novice 8 finished fifth out of nine teams in 24:12.37; its Men’s Novice 4 came in eighth out of 12 boats in 24:24.37; and its Men’s Varsity 8 placed eighth out of 10 boats in 19:23.72.
Complete results are available online.
Prowse was encouraged by the team’s performances and challenged her veterans and newcomers alike to maintain their conditioning and increase their strength over the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks so they can be ready to hit the water rowing in the spring semester.
“We have been limited (by numbers) in the past and rowing against much bigger teams, and I am always amazed at how hard our kids work and how well they do,” she said. “We always want to get to the next level. That’s always our goal, to do a little bit better each time out.”
She said after a shortened fall 5K schedule, due in part to the remnants of Hurricane Nicole canceling last weekend’s Head of the South in Augusta, Ga., the team is already looking forward to the spring season, which will open with the April 1 Waterfield Cup hosted by Virginia Tech on Claytor Lake and the Occoquan Sprint on April 1.
“They’re ready to go, ready for the 2K season, excited and looking forward to the winter training aspect of it,” Prowse said. “5K events are tons of fun, but a little less intense, and for the 2K season, rowers definitely crank it up with a little bit higher intensity.”
After a successful recruiting drive at the start of the fall semester, Prowse has a bright outlook for the second half of this season and the future of the program.
“We have some good varsity talent and good novice talent, and it will be interesting to see how things unfold in the spring,” Prowse said. “We’ve got some really strong novice guys, so we will see how they train over the winter and see how they perform when they get back on the water.”
The Flames and Lady Flames currently have a roster of 31 team members, though Zebediah Foster will be graduating this winter and another member is not expected to return for the spring semester.
Prowse said the goal is to eventually have enough people on each side to have both men’s and women’s varsity 8 and men’s and women’s novice 8 teams, which, with a coxswain, would require 36 athletes plus alternates for a roster of 40-plus team members. Those boats could then be divided into men’s and women’s varsity and novice 4s.
“We don’t typically get a big recruiting push between the fall and spring semesters, but we could use a couple more (team members),” said Prowse, who is considering setting up a winter training tryout in January. “We have awesome leadership, and our team captains are phenomenal at recruiting new members and looking for rowers.”
New recruits may get a bit of a rude awakening by the early start of 2023 workouts.
“The day we get back from (Christmas Break), we start practice five days per week, rowing on our indoor ergs (at the Club Sports Training Complex),” Prowse said. “Erg rowing gets old after a while when you do it five days per week, along with heavy lifting, so we will be doing some cross-training, including some pool workouts, swimming, biking, and running, and incorporating yoga to help with mobility and flexibility, just to break up the monotony.”
Also, for a change of scenery from the team’s boathouse on Smith Mountain Lake near Mitchell’s Point Marina, Prowse is looking at a destination training camp over Spring Break at a location to be determined.
To raise funds for that retreat, the team held an “erg-athon” on Flames Giving Day, with one to three rowers signed up each hour to row continuously from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., that helped raise more than $3,500 through donations from alumni, family, and friends.
“We have worked concessions four times as a team this fall, and that, with the Giving Day money raised, will help us to go on a trip, with 5-6 days of double or triple practices for a total of 10-12 practices,” Prowse said. “It is amazing how much they can learn and how much they can grow in that short amount of time with extra practice time during spring break.”
She said, ideally, having a closer place to practice than Smith Mountain Lake, possibly the James River or an expanded Hydaway Lake, would benefit the team for the future, eliminating an early-morning, hour-and-a-half long round-trip commute.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Coordinator