March 26, 2012
BERKELEY -Despite having one of the youngest teams in the tenure of head coach Dave O'Neill, the bar is still just as high as it has always been for California women's crew. Despite only having four seniors on the roster this season, O'Neill feels the team is in good hands with the veterans present and is encouraged by the progress of his younger rowers.
The team captains are seniors Elise Etem and Kristina Lofman. In addition, Tanya Wolfram and Becca Lindquist will also provide senior leadership. Lindquist, a transfer from UC Davis, was a member of Cal's NCAA-champion varsity four last year.
Etem and Lofman have rowed together on the varsity eight boat since they were sophomores, and helped the Bears capture Pac-10 Championships in 2010 and 2011. Lofman has been stroke the last two years and Elise in the four-seat. Lofman also competed on the top boat as a freshman when she was named the Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year in 2009. O'Neill expects both Wolfram and Lindquist to make huge contributions this season.
"Our two captains, Kristina Lofman and Elise Etem, have done a nice job in the last month of stepping up and really becoming better leaders and better athletes," O'Neill said. "That's what's been so great about with Kristina and Elise. They recognize it's their last chance, and they've been so close the three previous years that they really want to get it done."
Lindquist won the 2011 NCAA title in the varsity four with Charlotte Palmer, Kyndal Mancho, Catherine Shannon and the coxswain, Lynn Anderson. While there is not much momentum this year's Bears can take from that championship, O'Neill expects the members of that boat to be stronger leaders this year as a result of that success. He feels that they have embraced the challenge of stepping up to a higher-priority boat in 2012.
That experience and determination will be necessary with a team as young as this year's. Still, O'Neill does not see the youth as a drawback. He has enjoyed seeing the tenacity his rowers take to the water with every training session.
"Having the younger group, sometimes they can be hungrier," O'Neill said. "I appreciate the hunger and the desire of this year's crew. We need to focus that energy in the right direction, and it looks like that's happening. Although it's a young group, half of our Pac-10 winning team last year were freshmen, so they already have some good experience. The thing that is clear about this year's team, there is a very strong desire to succeed. That's been great, as coaches, to see. For us showing them that this is what you have to do, and now, they're starting to buy what we do as a program. I think it's going to pay off by the end of the year."
Getting introduced to some new faces often leads to some pleasant surprises. Two returners whom O'Neill has been very impressed with during preseason practices are junior Heather Hargreaves and sophomore Dani Riggs. O'Neill said Hargreaves has been one of the team's most improved rowers and Riggs has become one of the strongest rowers on the squad. He added that Riggs brings a lot of fight that has been great to see. Riggs competed on Cal's freshman eight last year that won at the conference championships.
Among the incoming freshmen who have really stood out to O'Neill is Ingvild Ronningen, a native of Norway like Lofman.
"Ingvild had a rocky start when she first came in, but she's stepped up a lot since January and has proven to be one of our top performers," O'Neill said. "She's not the biggest of rowers, but she's very determined. She gets the most out of the limited size that she does have."
Being an Olympic year, O'Neill's scheduled has changed a bit for this season. He not only is at the helm for his Bears, but he is also guiding Cal alum Julie Nichols ('98) and her teammate Kristin Hedstrom for an opportunity to represent the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London in the LW2x.
As a result of working with the pair, it has allowed him to bring Nichols and Ken Jurkowski (U.S. men's single sculler) along as volunteer assistant coaches for the campaign. Working with the doubles pair for the Olympics has not changed any dynamic with how he manages the Bears, but bringing their experience to the team has been extremely beneficial.
"The nice thing about coaching the double is they're very self-sufficient," O'Neill said. "They're very mature athletes. They do a great job taking care of themselves. It has been nice to have Julie, Kristen and Ken around the boat house. They're some of the best rowers in the country and the world. Ken and Julie are volunteer assistant coaches with us. I've been very appreciative of having Julie and Ken work with our team on the limited basis as volunteer assistant coaches."
Par for the course every season, there are no easy matchups on the schedule this year. For the first time in many years, Cal is bringing a full squad to the San Diego Crew Classic. The early-season challenge at the SDCC will be a good test for the traditional duals later in the season against Washington and Stanford. The Stanford dual will once again be dedicated to Jill Costello. The Bears will race as Team Jill in their aquamarine uniforms.
O'Neill feels the most important thing for the Bears to do heading into a new season is to develop their own identity. Having their own focus and their goals combined with the success this program has seen in the past decade is what Cal needs to do to continue that tradition, and he feels the Bears are well on their way to accomplishing that objective.
"Each team has its own personality and this team is definitely developing their own," O'Neill said. "We're a young team. We had a great freshman class last year, and these kids are sophomores now and are doing a really good job. We've had some great success over the past few years, and this team is very determined; they really want to do well. While they recognize the standard that the previous teams have set for themselves, they're working really hard to be the best Cal women's crew that they can be. They know part of that is focusing on the daily process, making the most of every day."