With a new coaching staff and new perspective, Gonzaga women’s rowing is embracing the change as it heads into a fresh season.
Led by an all-female coaching staff — head coach Marisa Wortman and assistant coaches Sam Casto, Claire Manthey and Chloe Rodgers — the Zags are cultivating an environment of female athletic empowerment.
“I feel like everyone is reciprocating the energy and the enthusiasm that we wanted to start the season off with,” Wortman said.
The new coaching staff brings knowledge and rowing experience for their athletes, with every coach having rowed at the NCAA Championships.
The blending of a new coaching staff has been a challenge, but both the coaches and all of the athletes have embraced it.
“As women who have all done the sport, we understand that we all come from different backgrounds, and being able to use that experience to learn from them and what they need in order to succeed has been the fun start of blending this staff,” Wortman said.
One of the new coaches is very familiar with how the Zags operate and how the athletes think. Manthey is a former GU rower and graduate.
“I think that we are going after the same goals, if not a little bit loftier but reframing it in that way has been really exciting to see because the girls are starting to take a little bit more ownership,” Manthey said. “It’s been fun seeing the team from this side, lots of different stuff going on from the coaching office.”
This year, the Zags are building off of their success as the current senior class has won the West Coast Conference championship and been to NCAA tournament every year. GU has 20-hour practice weeks, which consist of land practice in the morning and water practice in the afternoon. This is a new change for the Zags, as in the past they had morning practice on the water and land practice on their own.
They do both workouts together to be surrounded by one another and motivate each other through the workouts.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm to not only work hard, but work smart,” Wortman said. “They are getting better quality out of the quantity of work that they are doing.”
Whether it is a coach finishing her own workout as the women come into practice or Wortman jumping in and doing the workout with them, the coaches are trying to do this to lead by example and to motivate the women.
“We coach in a way that lets them know we are supporting the changes we want to make in order to have them go faster, not trying to criticize the technical approach to it,” Wortman said. “But trying to encourage them to want to find the biomechanics of the stroke more seamlessly.”
The team's first chance to test out their training was on Sept. 29 in Pullman against Washington State University. The main focus of the scrimmage was to have the opportunity to improve in an unfamiliar location.
Wortman said sophomore Lauren McCallum is an “amazing contributor” and to keep an eye on sophomore Zoe Calambokidis and senior Lauren English.
“I’ve been really impressed with the ways they’ve embraced a lot of things that we’ve thrown at them,” Casto said. “We talk a lot about just getting 1 percent better every day and that’s a message that I think they’ve responded well to.”
According to Wortman, the coxswains, juniors Alexa Jadallah and Simone Sims and sophomore Schuyler Peters, have stood out.
“They have done a really good job with working together and encouraging on another,” Wortman said.
The Zags will compete against WSU on Saturday, Oct. 13 at the Spokane River.
Brianna Vasquez is an A&E editor. Follow her on Twitter: @itsmeebrii.