From Walk-On to Champion
Courtesy: Cal Athletics  
Release:  01/13/2012

Jan. 13, 2012

BERKELEY - By Tim Miguel: Cal Athletic Communications

Sophomore Spencer Hall of the California men's rowing team is one of the few collegiate student-athletes who can say he went undefeated as a freshman.

Hall, a walk-on, enjoyed a perfect season in 2011 as a member of the Golden Bears' freshman eight boat, capped by a championship at one of the most historic rowing competitions in the world - the Henley Regatta in England.

One of the many Cal rowers, past and present, who began their collegiate careers as a walk-on, Hall virtually learned the sport from scratch upon arrival in Berkeley. It's not uncommon for the Cal coaching staff to give student-athletes like Hall a chance to succeed if they see the same drive and motivation that they do in their experienced student-athletes.

Hall quickly progressed up the ladder at Cal and eventually garnered a spot on the freshman eight boat that enjoyed many victories in 2011 like the Pac-10 Championship, IRA National Championship and the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley.

"Things started to click," Hall said. "I was still learning on such a steep curve. Basically, I just started going faster than other people on the erg and in the water. It's weird that's how I started. I didn't lose at all. It was kind of surreal the way everything unfolded, winning a national championship and then going to London. It was crazy."

The biggest eye-opening realization for Hall was the teammates he was rowing with. He was brand new to the sport, but he was in the same boat with guys who had already won national championships and garnered international honors.

"There were guys who were world champions and from all over the world," Hall said. "Everyone, except for two guys in my boat, had won some sort of national championship or world championship. I remember my very first days, I was so nervous rowing with them. A week later, it became second nature. Every little thing I did I was cautious of. It's amazing to think that was my mentality at that point because rowing with them every day was so easy."

While he was not an expert in the sport of rowing in high school, Hall was still an accomplished athlete, participating in both football and track and field at Eden Prarie High School in Eden Prarie, Minn. It was difficult from him to relate rowing to football and track because he used muscles in rowing that he had never used before, although the endurance factor was still just like running.

Initially interested in pursuing football in college, when Hall realized his best chance was to play at small school, he wanted an opportunity to attend a major university and try something new. He found his calling to start rowing through somebody he met at a family dinner who had rowed for a club team in Iowa. He gave Hall a list of contacts in the sport, one of which was Cal freshman coach Wyatt Allen, a former walk-on when he competed as an undergrad at Virginia. Hall got a few other calls, but he stayed in touch the most with Allen, who emphasized the success that former walk-ons had enjoyed at Cal after having no experience in the sport when they started.

Hall came out to visit Berkeley for the first time and never looked back.

"Wyatt was appealing because he had gone through the same situation when he was a walk-on at Virginia," Hall said. "I felt like the whole time he could relate to me, where I was at with each step. He's super laid back. He's not an aggressive coach, but he breaks it down for you and makes it appealing and easy to learn. His approach was he was very patient, but at the same time he expected a lot. That really helped me grow."

As much as Hall hopes to continue to improve and eventually work with head coach Mike Teti and the varsity eight boat, first and foremost, he just wants to do everything he can to help Cal keep winning.

Hall offered some words of wisdom to all of the future potential Cal walk-ons who are hoping to enjoy success in a new sport just as he did.

"You have to take it slow," Hall said. "I came in with an injury, so I didn't get on the water for the first month. You can't expect immediate results, but you'll notice that your improvement is a lot more dramatic than the other guys. The main advice would be to stick with it and know that the fall is a lot harder than the spring. You do 6Ks in the fall versus 2Ks in the spring, which is a lot harder to adjust to quickly. Give it time and you'll keep improving."