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|| Witten Named Sooner of Month | May 3, 2011
Kelsey Witten has been named the May Sooner of the Month by the University of Oklahoma Student Life office. Witten was nominated for her outstanding academic performance, athletic achievements and community service. She currently holds a 4.0 GPA and was named a 2010 Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Scholar Athlete. Witten is a four time Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll member and a 2010 C-USA All-Academic Team Member.
|| Witten on the Crew Classic | April 7, 2011
This is a very different year. We're older now. Faster. Smarter. But our expectations and our challenges just get tougher. Racing for OU is like running down hill. The faster you move your legs, the faster the hill propels you, and the only thing you can do is run even faster. The alternative is falling on your face.
So we keep running. And suddenly here we are, almost to the half-way point of the metaphorical hill and our season. We've just returned from San Diego Crew Classic, a place where I'm discovering you will always learn something about yourself and your team. Last year, we were on the losing end of an epic Cal Cup battle only to lose by 2 seconds in the last 250 meters. This year, we charged through the line for a 0.3 second victory in the Whittier Cup Petite Final. A very different year.
I love facts, data, analysis. And I love sports because it's a place where some special things can transcend all of those in an instant. It wasn't until rowing that I started to understand how a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Four plus four is eight. On Sunday morning, in the last 500 meters, four plus four made nine. You never know when one of these moments is going to find you, you just try to lay the foundation and wait for special things to happen. We make sure we work on that foundation every day- with technique and precision and endurance and trust. Then we show up at big races and give ourselves big opportunities knowing that we can do amazing things.
We raced eight times this spring before coming to Crew Classic. We won seven. Some were good, some were OK. We take something from each one and promptly move on to the next one because it's all the schedule permits. We had raced Wisconsin two weeks prior in our only loss thus far. All I really took from that race was how much I wanted to beat them later on. They were in our heat in San Diego, so we were eager for another shot. We would need to knock them (or Stanford or Washington) off to advance to the Grand Final of the Whittier Cup, which we were invited to for the first time. Since Wisconsin had the nearest lane to us of the three, we put the target on their back. It was a different race from our last meeting. We never jumped out on them like before, but they systematically moved away from us through the race to finish with a nearly identical margin. At one point, I found myself looking at Washington's 6 seat, so we moved our focus to them. They eventually pulled away, too, to finish second in the heat. Stanford, Washington and Wisconsin would advance to the grand final. We were going to the petite final instead, which, with the fastest crews out of our way, left one option in my mind- to win.
The crew and I went back to one of my favorite things- the facts, data and analysis. Ah, current No. 11 UCLA, a NCAA championship competitor last year. USD, the team who so painfully stole the Cal Cup right out from under us. Iowa, who we had beaten once already, but who I knew could be much faster. Oregon State, ranked two spots ahead of us in last week's poll. Purdue, the team who stunned us at the SIRA regatta last season by taking the win in the Grand Final and handing us another second place.
When I walked off the bus at the course Sunday morning, my eyes fell directly on the bow of our boat. Lane marker "1" was already attached. I smiled. I felt good.
In the warm-up, there was nothing left to say. No speeches. No coaching. Just row. Get to the staging area. Back into the stake boat. Come off the line clean.
With all that out of the way, we were cruising through the first 500 in the lead. This was normal. It almost always happens this way. Up UCLA in lane 2, no one else challenging yet. Nearing the 1,000 meter mark, I was still calling us up four seats on UCLA, though they weren't letting us break. But far across the bay in lane 6, I saw Iowa's coxswain creeping up beside me. Bigger problem. It would be a three boat race. I warned the crew Iowa was sneaking up. UCLA was starting to charge. I could hear the coxswain getting cocky. I could feel them gain momentum. No extra moves, I told myself. We wouldn't go on defense. Only the plan. I tried to keep my boat patient; sometimes we empty the tank too soon. We wouldn't leave the door open this time.
We stuck to the plan and executed. Crossing the 1,500 meter mark, I called the three boats dead even. I didn't check the split or the rate. I kept my eyes on the buoy line and the blue and yellow blurs beside me. I knew how this was going to be. A few strokes later, it seemed we had broken through Iowa, "We got Iowa," I yelled from what I can only describe as the depths of my being. My mouth had become so dried out I could barely form words. Next thing I knew, I was looking at UCLA's stern deck. We were down, but I knew we had time. About this time, four plus four had to make nine or we'd be taking a one-seat loss. Greater than the sum of our parts. Shift now. We gained speed. Trust. Half a seat down. Then even. Shift again. Believe. We're up. 10 to go, or something like that. Get that bow ball through the line first. We will die before we lose this race. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. Paddle. I screamed paddle, too, because urgent was the only tone I had.
The boat slowed. Clumsy post race high-fives and hugs ensued. The spectators on the beach didn't seem to know who won. The announcers hadn't been sure. Maybe UCLA didn't know. We knew. "How much?" Becca asked from stroke. I held my hands two feet apart. "About this much."
- Kelsey Witten
|| Rowing Breaks Into Top 20 | April 6, 2011
The University of Oklahoma women's rowing team broke into the CRCA/USRowing top 20 poll Wednesday, after the team's performance at the San Diego Crew Classic. This marks OU's first top 20 appearance in school history and Head Coach Leeanne Crain's third appearance in her career.
"This is a huge step for our young program," Crain said. "I'm so proud of this team and what they've been able to accomplish this season. We set out at the beginning on the year and breaking into the Top 20 was one of our many goals. Now that we've achieved this milestone, we must now shift our focus to climbing the ranks. We've got some important races in the next few weeks that will certainly come into play. We have to continue to get better every day between now and the end of the season. Ultimately, that's how our success will be measured."
Oklahoma and Texas are the sole top 20 representatives from the Big 12 and Conference USA. Other Big 12/C-USA teams to receive votes include Tennesse (31) and Alabama (1).
CRCA/USRowing Top 20
Poll #3 - April 6, 2011
|School (1st Place Votes)
|1. Princeton (24)
|2. Virginia (1)
|8. Michigan State
|9. Ohio State
|15. Washington State
Receiving Votes: Tennessee 31, Dartmouth 26, Louisville 15, Indiana 12, Oregon State 10, Minnesota 10, Iowa 3, Northeastern 2, Notre Dame 2, Columbia 2, Alabama 1
|| A Day in the Life | March 24, 2011
Junior rower Nicole Furmanek offers some insight into the long hours and dedication it takes to row for Oklahoma.
|| No Surprises | March 8, 2011
We race this weekend. Our home invitational will take place on the familiar waters of the Oklahoma River, but the competition will be anything but familiar. Yes, we raced Tulsa, Kansas, and SMU in the fall, but everything changes in the spring. No one ever knows for sure whether or not the pre-season results will carry over to the 2K course. It's a totally different ball game. Starts, sprints, power-10's, moves, counter-moves. All of these come into play in the sprint season. In a close race, it's a battle of wills. Stroke for stroke, everything matters. You can be up half a length off the start, and within 10 strokes be even again. That's where the will comes in. Do you accept being even or do you make a move to put your bow ball closer to the finish line? Do you race on the offensive, always attacking or do you tease your opponent, letting them draw even and then throw down the hammer? Sometimes you simply don't have a choice. The race defines who you are. And sometimes, you have to race from behind, which is tougher still. You have to be steady and unrelenting. In those moments, you have to be willing to risk more early in the battle, hoping for your opponent to falter so that you can show what you're truly made of.
I love racing. I loved it as an athlete and I love it as a coach. It's what we train for. In the sport of rowing, you don't get many racing opportunities. We will race 16 times this season. Our races are short. Roughly 7 minutes each time down the course. If you calculate the number of hours we spend training between September and May, it's roughly 580 or 34,800 minutes. 34,800 minutes of practice for 112 minutes of racing. That alone puts things in perspective. That's why racing is fun. It's what we live for every day in February when the skies are bleak, the temperatures are close to freezing, and the wind is so fierce our eyes water and tears freeze on our cheeks. Racing is the glorious payback for all of those miserable 6 o'clock mornings.
In just 3 days, our boats will be sitting at the starting line poised to lay down history for year three of the program. I've been watching the team closely these past few weeks. The athletes are different from last year. A little older, a little wiser, and definitely hungrier. We got a taste last year of what it's like to be in the mix of fast crews at South/Centrals. This year, the schedule is tougher. The opponents are stronger. I'm excited to see how we respond. As Kelsey wrote in her blog last week, last year's catchphrase was "This is the Start" which was representative of the beginning of our program. The successes we had last season at times caught us by surprise. This year, there will be no surprises. We know what we want. We know better what we're capable of. Certainly, we will win some races and we will lose some. And one thing we're sure of. We won't be satisfied with anything less than a Big 12 title. The countdown has been on since the beginning of the year. It started with 244 days. We're down to 53. And counting...
Oh, and catchphrase for this year? We'll work on that. Maybe we'll come up with something over the weekend.
|| The Second 500 | March 4, 2011
I recently read another coxswain's blog about her team's winter training and spring season outlook. It was well-written and interesting, with details of what the boat feels like when it's moving well and how the water is clear and calm. Well, I have a bit of a different experience with winter training. First of all, it's COLD. We've had six snow days this semester. Second of all, it's full of erging. The erg room essentially takes on the outside temperature within a range of 10 or 15 degrees. So, also cold. And thirdly, it takes a bit for those boats to start moving well. Probably because I don't think we know what calm water looks like here in Oklahoma this time of year.
But for me, winter training isn't about the well-moving boats or flat water. It's about the grind. The endless hours on the erg. The freezing temperatures and gusting wind. The top-to-bottom struggle to make early racing lineups when no one feels safe. This is when we get tough, or maybe just insane, either of which will serve us well. Then, winter training seems to end with perfect timing each year, right when you really just aren't sure you want to keep this thing going.
Last Saturday, we got our new racing unis and a new hat and wore them as a team for practice. It was about 29 degrees outside, but we really needed photos for our upcoming OU Invitational, so we pulled off our layers and got down to straight unis (coxswains too!) as a big statement that winter is over whether it likes it or not. It's time for spring racing. This unisuit says so.
Next weekend we'll kick off our season here at home against Tulsa, SMU, Kansas and Creighton. Though we won't race them head-to-head, we'll get a preview of the University of San Diego as well. We'll meet them later this season at their home course at Crew Classic, and hopefully get some redemption after last year's heartbreaking loss to them in the grand final of the Cal Cup. That race became one of last season's defining moments, one of those races that always comes up in conversation much to the dismay of everyone who lived it.
Thankfully, we won't have to keep telling those old stories because we're about to start defining this season. There will be other victories and defeats to discuss here pretty soon. Last year's catchphrase became "This is the Start," as a play off the start of a race and the start of our program. I don't think one has really been pegged for this year yet, but if last year was the start, I'm taking this one like the second 500. Base pace, ratio, composure and preparing to make a big move.
|| Winter Training Camp | Jan. 14, 2011
Well, here we are again in Mission Valley for winter training camp. It feels like I posted my last blog about this time last year, although I know I blogged from Crew Classic in April. I would check to see where I left off, but there's no free wi-fi in the rooms here at our otherwise fantastic Double Tree Hotel. I failed to blog through this last fall season but not because it was short on notable performances or defining moments. Fall was, in general, a great success as we competed at the Head of the Colorado, the Head of the Charles and Head of the Hooch, each with improved results over 2009 (some dramatic).
That brings us to winter camp (already!), which marks the transition from fall to spring season and hopefully sets a competitive, determined tone for the next 5 months. Each OU camp has been different-- our first season, my novice year, was intimidating and uncertain. We didn't yet know what this was really about or where we would go in the short term. Our second year here was again uncertain but hopeful that we would emerge in the spring as a force to challenge those teams we hadn't been able to catch in the fall. We were the underdog then. And this year, we come to San Diego having beaten all the Big 12 teams and everyone but Tennessee in Conference USA at least once. We aren't the underdogs anymore, and they say the burden of potential is expectation.
I think this is what this camp and this season have been and will be about; the expectations the coaches and athletes on this team have for themselves and the expectations we set last season with our results and how we respond.
There is no better place to start living up to these expectations than sunny San Diego in January. We're all free from the responsibilities of classes, studying and preparing our own meals for one week while we take the time to focus exclusively on rowing and this team. The schedule here is eat, row, eat, sleep, row, eat, sleep and start all over again.
I find myself more focused this year than ever, some of the novelty of the beach launch and seals has worn off since I first came to Mission Bay in April 2009. I see the novices taking pictures and marveling at the beauty of this area, but I know what it feels like to get second place by seven tenths of a second at the Big 12 Championship, and I know why we're really here.
It's Thursday already, and we're on the downhill side of camp with four practices to go. We've done everything from 30-minute to 5-minute pieces and every drill in between. The rowers' hands are showing the workload they've taken on this week, but we keep taping and icing and going back out for more.
Yesterday, Coach Crain let us row out into the open ocean, where huge waves roll in and make the boat feel like a roller coaster. Today, I did a handstand on the gunwales of the coxswain seat. For a minute we forgot about the work and enjoy ourselves, the water and each other.
Boomer Sooner from Mission Valley,
|| There's Only One | Oct. 13, 2010
After this weekend, I can positively say that there is only ONE Oklahoma.
That's our little catchphrase here in Norman. No one ever told me where it came from but I shrewdly deduced that it is based on the fact that the shape of the state is the same shape as your hand when you make the "1" signal with it. There's this really cool moment before every football game when the whole place is dead silent watching a highlight reel and then everyone holds up one index finger....pretty powerful stuff.
Anyway, this weekend started on Thursday when we opened the new Devon Boathouse for the OCU and USRowing High Performance teams. It was like nothing I've ever seen in the rowing world before. Gorgeous evening, breathtaking facility (and it's not even done yet), live jazz, great food, some of the best athletes in the country, the entire OKC rowing community and a bunch of people who just wanted to go to a great party. The pride this city is taking in supporting rowing is truly humbling. Here in Oklahoma City we are creating a support system that allows Olympic hopefuls, grown men and women who put what most of us would consider "real" life on hold, to train year round in the best facilities possible. I proudly represented OU Rowing alongside our Associate A.D. Dr. Brandon Martin, Coach Crain, Emma, our grad assistant Chelsea and our volunteer Teddy and I must say, we clean up nice.
Saturday and Sunday the Chesapeake Boathouse hosted the Head of The Oklahoma Rowing Festival. Rowing and festival. Two words that don't often appear in the same sentence. But it was. I know there are folks who think that what we are building out here is over-hyped but I can promise you, it isn't. First off, the racing was great. Our girls raced eights, fours, pairs, and singles in a very short span of time that will surely be remembered as a fitness blitzkrieg. Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, Stanford and many others sent their women's teams. Cal, Harvard, and Princeton sent their men. The national team raced and dropped a little education on all of us. There was local art and food, tiny little gymnasts doing unthinkable things on a balance beam, and an absolutely huge crowd of people. And the crazy thing about the crowd? Most of them weren't parents. There were some, including our loyal following from Arizona, but mostly it was just locals who wanted to watch some rowing. And kayaking. Olympic hopeful kayakers training here put on a little show for us and that was really something. They make it look seamlessly easy. Trust me, it isn't.
Did I mention the fireworks? Yeah. There were fireworks. Fireworks for rowers. Twice.
One of the things we sell about the rowing program here at OU is that it's not necessarily what we do that makes us special, it's how we do it. The amount of pride Coach Crain takes in this team, from assembling a phenomenally talented and loyal staff, to monitoring student athlete academic progress, to making sure our equipment is so clean you could perform surgery on our bow decks, is what separates us from other programs. What separates Oklahoma City from other rowing cities, for me, is the way they are embracing rowing culture as part of the city's identity. We are so proud to be here. We are so proud to have our nation's best training here. We are so proud to be OU.
There's only one. Oklahoma.
- Marina Traub
|| Epic | Sept. 20, 2010
Or, as our Kiwi novice coach, Emma, would say, "eeepic." That's how I would describe this weekend.
We begin our story on Thursday night at about 8pm. I am on my couch, exhausted, but I can't go to sleep because we have recruits and parents coming in on visits in a couple hours and I have to pick them up at the airport. Lots of folks ask me, as a coach, what I do for the 22 hours of the day I'm not in practice. I can rarely compose a decent answer despite the fact that I know I'm pretty much always busy. As the head coach, Leeanne Crain's non-practice time is consumed by communicating with the administration, managing athletes, dealing with injuries, planning, budgeting and generally piloting the good ship OU Rowing. As the novice coach, Emma spends her time making sure the novice athletes are getting through the NCAA initial-eligibility process, inventing drills to teach walk-ons how to row and writing out certain words on my whiteboard because I can only understand about half of what she says.
I am the recruiting coordinator. So my time is spent on the web searching for the next great athlete, on the phone searching for the next great athlete, and with our wonderful travel agent Jana, figuring out how to get the next great athlete on a plane to Oklahoma City in three days because this is the only weekend we can make it work. This is a tedious and time consuming process. It is not thankless, but the thanks are sometimes few and far between. But every once in awhile, when you get it right, it is worth every unreturned phone call and email. It is, in a word, epic.
I had been having a less than great week. Nothing specific, just general life stuff. So the last thing I really wanted to do was get spiffed up at 10:30 pm on Thursday night, drive to the airport, pick up and be chatty with some people I had barely met before, drive them into Norman, drive myself home to Oklahoma City and then get up three hours later for practice. But that's my job, so Sooner Up, woman.
They were delightful. They were engaged, pleasant, good handshakes, good eye contact, genuinely looking forward to getting an inside look at the Sooner Nation. I awoke Friday morning rejuvenated and energized, ready to make this next practice one for the books.
It was. The team was focused, attentive, and really giving it all on the water. I ran home, showered, put on the standard coaching khakis and polo uniform, and spent the day bragging about our athletic department, our coaching staff, and showing the recruits the gorgeous campus and facilities of the University of Oklahoma. We capped off the day with a fantastic dinner at our favorite Italian place and put everyone, including ourselves, to bed early. When you get into it, recruiting is really fun, but it's always exhausting.
Saturday practice was better than I could have imagined. Literally. There was one boat that I literally could not have imagined would do as well as it did, give as much as it did. Like Coach says, when the body is tired, the will can still be strong. The Sooners were honored to host the Air Force Academy for a football game later in the day and I was delighted to see how classy and humbled our fans were to be in the presence of the service men and women of our nation. We watched the game's warm-up from the sidelines, watched a soul-shuddering flyover of Air Force Jets, and got a hug from Boomer, the cutest mascot in all of college sports.
I just got home from the airport. I am on the couch and my beloved Patriots are playing today. Emma and I dropped everyone off with smiles and hugs that were as genuine as any have ever been. I checked my inbox and got a commitment for an official visit from an athlete we really want. My job, the team, my support system at OU has literally turned my outlook on life around in three days, because I committed to them and they delivered in a huge way. We are coaches, and we love our jobs.
As a happy post script, our studly novices got their first issued Nike gear this weekend, always a big day, and in honor of them, I attach this picture of them playing `the laugh game' after practice on Saturday. Look at all that joy. Life is good in Oklahoma. It is almost epic. Sooner Up. It makes everything better.
- Marina Traub
|| Saturday Practice | Sept. 11, 2010
We had a really good practice this morning. Well, I should rephrase that. It was our first Saturday practice of the season, so our first long one. It tested fitness. Weekday practice times are constrained by class schedules and other important academic appointments. But Saturdays, Saturdays we get the team to ourselves for two and a half hours. And you can tell by the degree of fading intensity and focus who is fit and who is not.
There was some fading.
And there was some lack of attention to detail, which is a particular focus of ours here at OU. But that doesn't mean it was a bad practice. It means we learned. So that's a good thing. These things are to be expected at the beginning of the season. It takes the brain a while to remember how important every little thing is when you haven't been on the water for awhile. So we told the team afterwards there are two kinds of people: those who want to do things right and those who are willing to be flexible on that point depending on their degree of fatigue. We are looking for, and attempting to become, the kind of people who care about how everything is done - even the little things. Especially the little things, because that's what the big things are built upon. Just because something is small does not mean it's not important. Spark plugs. Small? Yes. Vital? YES.
So I'm sitting here decompressing after practice and Karate Kid (the original with the fabulous 1980s soundtrack) is on in the background, and I'm watching Daniel-san get upset that he has been painting and sanding and waxing when he is supposed to be learning karate. Then the moment arrives when he realizes he really has been learning karate the whole time, though he thought he was just doing menial stuff, and it reminds me of what we told the team after practice this morning. Because Daniel-san is not doing manual labor. He is becoming what he wants to become.`
Here's the great thing about rowing: it teaches you who you are. It's not about having two hands on the oar until your coxswain says "down", it's about wanting to do it right. This particular stroke might not matter come Big XIIs in April, but some people want to do this stroke right regardless. What you are doing is not important. How you are doing it is. Here's to the Sooners, who are going to become the kind of team that just likes to do things right, no matter what.
- Marina Traub