Rowing prepares to practice in new ways with new coach

After cancelled season, SPU rowing is working hard in preparation for coming season

Gabe Sta Maria and Brandon Bee

Jacinta Grandel, sophomore Fashion Design & Merchandising, leads the shell as the team prepares to launch it for their practice. (Jacky Chen)

Seattle Pacific University women’s rowing team had high hopes for last season. Instead, their season was canceled in March almost as soon as it began. This decision was saddening to the team, as their eyes were set on a podium finish last season. Their hopes for last season are now transferred to the upcoming one, as they are preparing and practicing for a season they hope will be ahead.

Sophomore Avalon Tarbet-Mendoza voiced her disappointment on how the season was canceled before the team had a chance to work on their goal of reaching the National Championship.

“We had just only had our scrimmage with Gonzaga and we had only attended one regatta, and all of a sudden within a week, everything was gone. The NCAA announced there was going to be no finals or championship,” Tarbet-Mendoza said. “Last year I remember distinctly the day we stepped into the shell house, we had had the goal ardently of podium 2020, we knew that we were going to put all of our efforts into getting there, and it was like watching sand through your fingers.”

Jacinta Grandel opens the oar lock so she can insert her oar in place upon hopping into the shell. (Jacky Chen)

Senior rower Roxy Ruther also reflected on the cancellation of the rowing season earlier this year and the impact that had on her and the rest of the team.

“All of our racing season except for one race and our championship season was cancelled, so that was really heartbreaking for all of the people on the team,” Ruther said. “Having trained all through winter and having then your season completely taken away was really difficult.”

Coming into this season, the SPU rowing team is adjusting to a new system of practicing.

Tarbet-Mendoza also explained how the team is practicing during the pandemic.

Women on the rowing team are limited to rowing with teammates in their four person pods. (Marissa Lordahl)

“Our team is divided into four pods, so we are rotating on who’s erging and who’s lifting on some days and we can only row with people in our pod,” said Tarbet-Mendoza. “When we were looking at all these different shakeups (in practice), it was like ‘oh my gosh, how is this going to work,’ but it was never that I doubted if it would work, it was a big leap of faith.”

The challenges didn’t just come with practicing during a pandemic, but also with new faces on the SPU Women’s Rowing staff.

On Aug. 6, 2020, Seattle Pacific University announced that they hired a new head coach for their women’s rowing team, Caitlin McClain, who was formerly at the top of the Holy Names Academy Program, an all girls high school in Seattle for 15 years.

This season, McClain has come into a season plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, where teams are struggling to find ways to practice and compete safely. Since practices are put into smaller groups, McClain said that it has helped with the transition becoming a new coach.

One of the two Seattle Pacific shells crosses under the Fremont Bridge for the first part of their practice route. (Jacky Chen)

“For me, that worked really well, being a new coach, because it actually allowed me to teach their technique a little more,” McClain said. “There are a lot of variables that can impact you when you are on the waters, so to be able to be on land and talk about the techniques, that was good.”

To a return to what seems like some form of normalcy, going back to practice was something that McClain says that her athletes enjoyed. With many changes this season to athletics, teams and staff have to accommodate their athletes to get back into the thick of things.

“Everyone was happy to be together in some form or fashion,” McClain said. “Coming out of the uncertainty of the summer and having an additional change in coaching staff, I think the biggest thing was trying to get to a rhythm with that.”

McClain has challenges coming in as a new coach to teach new techniques to the rowers and to motivate them. The pandemic has given the rowing team setbacks, but they are committed to moving forward going into the season with a strong mindset in their races.