March 23, 2012
BERKELEY - The 2012 California men's crew is definitely not short on talent, albeit youthful talent. The key for the Golden Bears this season will be how long it will take for the youngsters to take their abilities to the next level. If head coach Mike Teti and his assistant coaches Luke Agnini and Wyatt Allen can accomplish this feat, then an IRA National Championship is not out of the question for Cal.
The Bears look to capitalize off of the momentum from the 2011 freshman boat's undefeated season. The 2011 novice boat won the Pac-10 Championship, IRA Championship and the Temple Challenge Cup at the Royal Henley Regatta in England. The most likely scenario is that four or five rowers from that boat will be competing on the varsity eight in 2012.
However, as much as Cal is hoping to capitalize on the success of that boat from last season, Allen, the Bears' freshmen coach and recruiting coordinator, knows the step up from novice to varsity is not an easy task.
"There's a lot of momentum, but at the same time, it's a whole new level," Allen said. "We had everyone in that boat come back. So in that sense, it's positive for the future. As these guys saw at the Head of the Charles, racing at the varsity level is different. It's momentum for the program, but it doesn't translate to immediate wins at the varsity level."
In addition to the team's success in the water, the coaches also expect the Bears to continue to excel in the classroom. Agnini said that part of the difficulty in moving from the novice boat to the varsity includes the increased difficulty of school and overall college life. It's part of the coaches' job to help them succeed in all facets of their college experience.
"At the varsity level, not only is competition stiffer, but classes are more difficult and the practice schedule is more intense," Agnini said. "It's really just them getting the balancing act of college life, staying healthy and keeping grades up. On paper, they're as talented as anybody. It's more about them acclimating to Cal at a bigger level. They all have difficult majors."
The key for the newcomers, as well as the returning veterans, will be how they respond after some very challenging early-season battles. Cal opens the 2012 campaign at the San Diego Crew Classic. In recent years, this event was geared more as a season tune up, but the field has gotten a lot stronger for this year's regatta. The Bears will be joined in Southern California with national powers like Harvard, Cornell and Stanford. Harvard finished second to Washington and ahead of third-place Cal in the grand final of the varsity eight at last year's IRA national championships. The SDCC will be the Bears' lone opportunity to see what challenges the Crimson will present before the teams likely meet at IRAs. Following the Crew Classic, the Bears will tangle with Wisconsin and traditional rivals Washington and Stanford in duals.
With such a difficult schedule beginning with the season opener, the Bears will need some veteran leadership at the outset. That will come from senior Chris Yeager.
"He's going to be instrumental in providing leadership to that group," Allen said of Yeager. "He's been in the varsity boat for three years. He was in the Under-23s that won last year. He's definitely going to be a key to that boat, as the leadership of the group."
Yeager was part of the U.S. men's eight that claimed first in a record-setting time at the 2011 U23 World Championships last summer. Yeager and the U.S. clocked a time of 5:24.31, which was seven seconds better than the previous top time set by Germany. Teti was the coach of that men's eight boat.
Another important returner from the varsity eight last year is senior Jack Farthing, who rowed in the two-seat last season. He injured his back in the third week of practice in September and was unable to compete in the fall events. His presence was sorely missed by the Bears, and they are happy to see him back in the water.
"He's a very skilled rower," Agnini said of Farthing. "He's been helping out a lot with the stronger, but inexperienced JV guys. He makes everybody around him better with the rhythm that he sets. He's got a very good chance of making the varsity like he did last year."
Allen and Teti have brought in a talented group of freshmen to complement the returning talented sophomores. Some of the incoming freshmen who have really stood out to the coaches are Jovan Jovanovic, Stephen Tuck, Christian Kader, Richard Walter, Maliq Hunsberger and Jason Stroud. Also, junior transfer Garrett Boccara (Orange Coast College) has impressed the coaches during preseason practices.
With 2012 being an Olympic year, Cal is hoping for many of its former rowers to represent their native countries at the Summer Olympic Games in London. In addition to the Cal rowers, Teti will return to the international scene as an assistant coach for the U.S. Having Teti at the helm for both Cal and for the U.S. has strengthened the admiration and respect that his Bears have for him.
"I think it's raised their sense of purpose," Agnini said. "They know there's a little more of a buzz in the air. It helps the younger guys. It solidifies how big of a deal Mike is in the rowing world, not just at the college level, but in the world. There's nobody better in the country than Mike at selecting guys for an eight and making it go fast."
Without question, both internationally and in the collegiate ranks, the future is looking bright for Cal men's crew.