March 25, 2002
The Cal men's crew's approach to its 2002 season is similar to those that it used to put some of the most successful crews in the history of U.S. collegiate rowing on the water in 1999, 2000 and '01. Simply stated, the Bears focus is on sound technical rowing, pulling harder than their adversaries, and moving their racing shells over the 2000-meter race course more efficiently than the competition.
The varsity squad has set concrete goals of defending its IRA national and Pac-10 championships and recording a fourth-consecutive undefeated season. Other goals that exist are intangibles-maximizing potential, distinguishing itself as a team in Cal rowing history and setting new standards in collegiate rowing.
The Bears return 17 letterwinners to aid in the pursuit of these goals including: six Olympians, eight varsity IRA National champions, two JV IRA national champions and four varsity coxed four IRA national champions. Combining this group of gold medalists with all nine oarsmen from the 2001 IRA bronze-winning frosh eight creates the intense intrasquad competition necessary for crews to compete at the highest level.
Leading the assault on the varsity IRA title in 2002 is a core group of seniors who have a combined seven varsity IRA gold medals-Nito Simonsen, Jake Wetzel, captain Scott Frandsen and coxswain Michael Vallarelli. Both Wetzel and Simonsen are in pursuit of undefeated collegiate careers.
"These four athletes have been enormously successful over their California careers," said coach Stephen Gladstone. "This year they have stepped it up a notch. Simonsen makes sure we maintain the standards in terms of the hard work and team consciousness that has brought Cal success on race day. Wetzel is ferocious day-in and day-out on the water. Frandsen works well with people and is a consummate boat mover, while Vallarelli's confidence continues to move the squad forward. These four men epitomize senior leadership."
"Pound for pound there is nobody better in the world than Stegic, except perhaps for Nalty," said Gladstone. "Stegic is efficient, fearless and a great teammate, while Filipic has become very analytic about his rowing. He has increased his efficiency and is a very reliable racer. Nalty is the whole package-a hard worker, demanding of himself and very athletic. Kennelly is physically stronger than he has ever been and has a great racer's mentality."
Stegic and Filipic are undefeated as collegiates entering 2002 and are looking for their third-consecutive varsity IRA title, while Nalty looks to add a second crown to the one he earned in the stroke seat of Cal's 2001 varsity. Kennelly is coming off a redshirt season after rowing in the 2000 IRA national champion Cal varsity.
"Smiljanic is stronger, rowing better and better adjusted to the university life," said Gladstone. "Wallin has stepped up and I have strong expectations that he'll be a big-time boatmover this season. Fleming continues to make important technical strides. His power has never been in question."
New to Cal this season is Ian McGowan, who had put his education on hold in favor of his successful bid for a slot on the U.S. 2000 Olympic squad.
"McGowan comes from a very high level of sculling, and is in the process of adapting to the sweeps," said Gladstone. "He is getting himself in balance with both rowing and academics."
Add to the mix juniors Jesse Bauman, Robert Deppisch and Paul O'Sullivan, transfers Brett Winfield and Janik Gasirowski, along with nine returning sophomores, and the Bears expect to be in the hunt again for more than just the varsity IRA gold medal.
The Cal freshman eight should once again be a top contender for an IRA national championship. Second-year coach Geoff Bond has a solid group of talented young oarsmen, who aspire to extend the streak that today's varsity oarsmen have established and are working to maintain.
Cal figures to be ranked No. 1-a position it has held since April 1999-when the USRowing Preseason Coaches Poll is announced. The Bears primary West Coast competition comes from rival Washington, which also should garner a top five rank. Look for Princeton, Brown, Wisconsin and the Huskies to challenge Cal at the IRA National Championships in June.