Rowing team reaps benefits of hard work

In the past, a four-month layoff might have left the Colonials rusty for the McCausland Cup, their first race of the 2010 spring season, against the University of Pennsylvania. But instead of faltering, GW’s men’s rowing team triumphed over the Quakers, winning its first race by a little more than two seconds.

“It’s easy to lose your focus in a long offseason,” said senior and team captain Dominic Abruzzese, “but we used Penn as our focus, and really ramped up for that.”

Victories like the one against Penn have been increasingly common for the Colonials, ranked 16th in the most recent USRowing collegiate polls. That increased success, the rowers say, has been the product of years of hard work.

“Every year we’re continuing to up our standards,” junior Craig Helmstetter said. “The team mentality over the past few years has been to really push ourselves.”

Four years ago, GW took a major step by earning a provisional invitation to join the Eastern Sprints League. That season, GW managed to qualify a complete team – both varsity eight-man boats as well as a freshman eight-man boat – for the national tournament.

GW has now joined the league on a permanent basis, and has sent a complete team to nationals every year since. But with the increased success comes increased expectations, something the team has welcomed with open arms.

“We’ve changed our standards from being glad we made it [to nationals] to feeling like, ‘Okay, let’s take some people down and show them what we’ve got,'” Helmstetter said. “We’re here to compete.”

Abruzzese echoed Helmstetter’s statements, pointing to the Colonials’ improved performance since he joined the team as a freshman.

“Since my freshman year, our performance is substantially better,” Abruzzese said. “We want to go and compete, not just show up.”

This season, GW faced a new obstacle in transitioning to new coach Mark Davis. While the switch hasn’t been seamless, Davis said his team has handled the situation well.

“There’s always challenges. being the new coach,” he said. “I coach differently, but these guys bonded well to what I was trying to do with the program. No one’s ever questioned me.”

GW overcame another hurdle when junior rower Tom Schryver injured his back in February, sidelining him for the season. Davis was nervous at first over the possible implications the injury would have for the team, but said he has been impressed by his teammates’ response.

“I thought it would be a really big loss for our team, especially considering our program isn’t as deep as some of our competitors,” he said. “But the guys never complained, just wanted to get going and practice hard. I haven’t heard one bit of negative feedback.”

With conference and national championships still remaining on the calendar, the Colonials are hoping to finish what they started against Penn earlier this spring.

“We’re getting down and dirty and ready to go,” Helmstetter said. “[We] don’t take any stroke for granted. Every second, every minute of practice [we] go after it. Just bring everything you got, 100 percent.”

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