Another one for the rafters

Women rowing squeaks by rival Western for the 2010 OUA banner in St. Catherine’s

The women’s rowing team win the 2010 OUA Championship in St. Catherine’s.
The women’s rowing team win the 2010 OUA Championship in St. Catherine’s.

At 11:44 a.m. on Sunday the women’s heavyweight eight was ready for the last race of the OUA championship hosted by Brock University in St. Catherines. Anticipation and nervousness gave way to screaming encouragement as they narrowly tallied enough points to take home the banner.

The Queen’s women held a narrow 88-75 team point lead over rival Western entering the last event, but because the top three positions would receive 25, 15 and 8 points respectively so the whole weekend’s efforts rested on the oars of the last competitors.

Queen’s would finish the race 2nd, just four seconds from Western. Though it wasn’t a first place for the crew it was good enough to secure a 103-100 point victory over Western for the OUA banner.

The team point system makes winning the banner a demonstration of a team’s all around capabilities.

The coaches spent a long time adjusting the heavyweight and lightweight teams to maximize the total number of team points. The ultimate decision was to cut down the number of competing athletes to allow the top athletes to compete in more boats. Head Coach John Armitage said it was somewhat of a risk.

“We reduced our squad by about seven people. It was painful for us, it was painful for the rowers. When we had done our team goal setting at the beginning of September, the girls set the OUA banner as the ultimate goal at the end of the season. As coaches we are bound to respect that goal, we took an ultimate gamble, we ended up racing with 21 women,” he said.

The lightweight women were the story of the weekend as they came off with 1st place finishes in the eight, four and the single. They were able to reel in 59 of the teams points with these big finishes as well as a 5th place in the double. The heavyweight side brought home the 2nd in the eight and four, 6th in the double and 1st in the single for 44 points. Katya Herman raced in both single events and singlehandedly provided 21 points.

Lightweight rower, Emily Richardson said the team had a lot of faith coming into the weekend.

“We expected to win [the eight], we were a little more sceptical about the four because we hadn’t raced that line up before. Confident not cocky. We worked really hard so there was no reason we couldn’t win,” she said.

Just two weeks earlier, goals of an OUA banner could have been dampened by substandard results. At the Brock Invitationals the lightweight women finished 2nd in the eight, nine seconds behind rival Brock. Their four had equipment damage at the start and couldn’t finish the race. The heavyweight women placed third in the eight behind both Trent and Western. The team looked like the sure underdog but the team’s morale was unshaken.

Richardson said the team prepared well leading up to the weekend and focused on the technical aspects of their racing.

“We kicked it into high gear in the two weeks between Brock and OUAs. We worked at higher ratings. We just kicked our [own] asses,” she said.

One of the most critical changes that the team made was to raise their stroke rate per minute for the race. Brock had defeated them earlier in the season because they had been rating at a high 38 stroke per minute while Queen’s was only at about a 34. The change required an increased intensity from the athletes but also the decision from the lightweight women’s coach, Nicole Bobbette, to shorten their oar lengths in order to lighten the load they would have to bear each stroke.

With her team’s turnaround Bobbette was honoured with the Female Coach of the Year award. Despite the individual accolade she felt the award was reflective of a strong team coaching staff.

“I was just a small part of a really strong coaching team. [The award] wasn’t really reflective of the coaching team model that we decided to adopt. Although I was recognized I think all of the recognition should go to all of the women’s coaches and the athletes.”

The Gaels will be competing at the CIS Championship this weekend in Victoria, B.C.

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