Life is but a dream for the Gonzaga University women’s rowing team that has already tasted success in its first rare of the fall season in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the Head of Oklahoma. After overcoming difficulties with COVID-19 last year, the rowing team hopes to reset and has its goal set high for this coming season.
On Oct. 2, GU sent eight varsity rowers and two coxswains to compete in a series of races for the Head of Oklahoma. In the Collegiate eight plus race, the team of rowers scored fourth overall out of 10 teams with a time of 14:01.28 for 4K. The boat then split up into teams of four to compete in the same distance but with 22 teams. The GU “A” team took first place with a time of 15:12.94, beating out a fast Univerity of Alabama team by less than six seconds. The GU “B” team finished 10th less than a minute later, with a time of 16:08.40.
“It was a great starting point for us,” said Head Coach Andrew Derrick. “I think we've figured out that we were actually capable of a little bit more.”
These races of 4K are distance races and normally happen in the fall, but with COVID-19 plaguing the sport for a year and a half, this was the first time in two years that the rowers have been able to participate in these longer distances.
In addition to experiencing these longer races, the team was able to finally see some results of the training that they have put in through the summer.
“It was super exciting to go there and see that this hard work that we've been putting in through summer is actually paying off,” said graduate student Megan Chalfant. “It's cool to go on that trip and then bring it back to our team and be like, ‘what we're doing is being validated.’”
Last year, the team won their conference and placed 20th in the NCAA women’s rowing tournament in the spring. Now, despite the dominant performances last season, the Zag’s goals are higher than ever. The team hopes that it can repeat its conference victory this year and surpass 20th place, scoring around 17th or 18th place in the tournament.
“There were a lot of unknowns but going out there and winning the conference was a great feeling, and with NCAAs, we were happy with it," said junior Grace Dojan "But we know that if we train well this year we can place even better and that's really exciting."
The team, although it has lost a number of significant seniors from last year’s team, has brought in a determined group of new recruits, some of which have done very little rowing previously. These novices bring new energy to the team and even inspire the veteran rowers to push themselves harder.
“When you see a new girl come in and just have no concept of fast but just go so hard, you have to self check and be like, ‘OK, like how much more can I push myself,’” Chalfant said. “It's always cool to have new energy come in and then allow it to refine your passion.”
For Derrick, this season will be all about “success without qualifiers.” Derrick does not want to look back at last season but wants to focus solely on preparing the team to perform the best that it can be. He was happy with the results of the regattas in Oklahoma but believes that this sole success does not define the season or the team.
“COVID is still here, but it's a little bit more business as usual," Derrick said "So one of our big focuses is just being excellent without any qualifiers like ‘for where we started,’ or ‘because of COVID’ or something like that. We're just trying to be a really good team."
He also believes that while the big goals of winning the WCC title and performing well in the NCAA tournament are important, the smaller, everyday goals are vital to seeing results.
On the most mundane level, our goal is to practice a little bit better,” Derrick said. “We talk a lot about how the little things being done right, lead to the big results. So, we're asking them to really get after the practice at a little bit better level. It's gonna help us get past those checkpoints throughout the season and see some of that progress as we go.”
The team will race on Oct. 23 for the Head of the Spokane Invitational, and on Nov. 7, the Zags will head west to Seattle for the Head of the Lake Invitational.