Queen’s rowers go against the tide

In the wake of mass graduation, Queen’s rowers still looking promising

Queen’s rowing is going to have a hard time following up on last season’s  success, but with a new crop of recruits to replace the decorated graduates, the sky is the limit.

Just as those newly-departed veterans did some years ago, the rookies will have the benefit of a training package that has been tailored for their needs.

Rowing has historically been oriented towards larger groups, focusing on teams rather than individuals, since larger teams can accrue more overall points. 

The Queen’s program, under the direction of Head Coach Rami Maassarani, has changed that.

Maassarani has drawn the focus to the team members themselves, building up their personal strengths in smaller boats.

The end goal of this strategy is to turn Queen’s into a rowing factory that churns out superstars, like the recently departed Gavin Stone, who has been competing with Canada’s national team.

Maassarani’s plan seems to be working. Last season, Queen’s entered six male teams and six female teams at the OUA finals. Four men’s teams and five women’s teams won gold, with the other three teams winning silver.

The team also medaled at the National Championships, and four athletes were selected for the U23 World Championships in Florida.

To add to the accolades, Alex Bernst traveled to Peru for the Pan-American Games, while Gavin Stone, the reigning Male OUA Athlete of the Year, won gold at nationals and was also on the bronze medal Canadian boat at the World Rowing Cup.

It was quite literally a banner season, and, in Maassarani’s words, “the culmination of several years of hard work.”  It was proof their strategy had been working, and it served to establish Queen’s as a force to be reckoned with in the rowing world.

It also set a daunting standard for this season.

Having spent three years honing this training program and building such a strong team, many of Maassarani’s strongest athletes have graduated. The people who had time to reap the full benefits of the training have now moved onto other things, and the team is largely starting fresh.

Given the loss of multiple key veterans, this year’s team might have difficulty reaching the same heights of performance as their predecessors. Maassarani hopes to start building this new roster in the same manner as the last, developing first-time rowers and introducing seasoned rowers and new recruits alike to the Queen’s rowing culture.

The adjustment isn’t always an easy one. The focus on smaller teams and individual training and the accompanying differences in training style both take getting used to.

At Queen’s, boats are matched in training by speed, not category. Men’s singles match up with women’s doubles and smaller performance boats of seasoned athletes preparing for competition train next to larger development boats of recruits from other disciplines learning to row for the first time.

For a sport so rooted in tradition, this is a daring choice, but one that has proven to work. By training side-by-side based on speed, it ensures athletes are always rowing alongside another boat, like they would in a competitive setting. This means they get the motivation direct competition provides, even in practice, and without creating direct rivalries or comparisons.

“You set your goals, we’ll help you get there. If your goal is to make the national team, we have the experience to help you do that. If your goal is to be the best university rower you can be, we’ll help you do that too,” Maassarani said in an interview with The Journal

This season, as more schools are influenced by their practices, Queen’s is focusing on building a strong new team, further honing the program itself, and finding a way to keep their edge in competition as these methods gain traction province-wide.

With races nearly every weekend, it may prove to be a challenging season, but one that could cement Queen’s rowing as an OUA powerhouse should Maassarani’s strategy continue to pay off.

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