MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - The West Virginia University rowing team has come a long way since its establishment as a varsity sport for the 2000-01 season.
The Mountaineers have experienced their fair share of success over the years, earning invitations to some of the nation’s most prestigious regattas while building tradition and a reputation for both athletic and academic excellence. In spite of an already impressive resume, it has become apparent that fifth-year head coach Jimmy King has prepared the rowing team at West Virginia to have one of its most successful seasons to date.
“We have a good core of coxswains and rowers returning with quality racing experiences gained last spring, probably more than ever before,” King says. “Add to that group this year’s newcomers among the experienced freshman and the novices and we expect our program to take another step forward this season.”
The 2012 varsity squad returns 17 rowers and four coxswains from last year, including seven student-athletes who moved up from the novice team. Altogether, these 21 student-athletes combined for five medals, five first-place finishes and six second-place finishes during the 2010-11 season, including multiple wins at the Head of the Ohio and the Philadelphia Frostbite.Shannon Gribbons
, Hilary Meale
, Rachelle Purych
, Courtney Schrand
, Jenelle Spencer
, Karen Verwey
and coxswain Mallory Fisher
return after being members of the Varsity 8+ that placed fifth out of 28 teams at the Knecht Cup, advanced to the Grand Final at the BIG EAST Championships, and placed eighth out of 35 teams at the Dad Vail Regatta.
Additionally, the Novice 4+ crew comprised of Christina Mehrtens
, Danika Rencken
, Tamyra Roberts
, Mollie Rosen
and coxswain Morgan Leach
returns to the squad after having placed fifth out of 46 crews at the 2011 Dad Vail Regatta. Mehrtens, Rencken and Leach were also members of the Novice 4+ that took first out of 45 crews at the Knecht Cup.
Their Knecht Cup win subsequently resulted in the Novice 4+ being recognized as the BIG EAST Boat of the Week.
West Virginia will open the 2012 spring schedule with a preseason scrimmage against familiar opponent George Washington on the Occoquan Reservoir in Fairfax Station, Va. The Mountaineers have faced the Colonials twice in program history, ultimately coming away with one first-place finish and two second-place finishes in multiple events.
The Mountaineers will return to the water the following weekend to open the regular season against North Carolina and Georgetown on Lake Wheeler in Raleigh, N.C., marking the third year in a row that they have opened their season against North Carolina.
Upon completion of the day’s racing, the team will then travel to Lake Lure, N.C. where they hold their annual spring training camp, coinciding with the University’s spring break. After a week of preparation, the Mountaineers return to Fairfax Station, Va., to race at the Occoquan Sprints for just the second time in program history.
With three boats qualifying for their respective Grand Finals at last year’s Occoquan Sprints, the Mountaineers will undoubtedly expect to finish strong again, especially heading into the Knecht Cup Regatta.
Held on the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, N.J., midway through the 2012 season, the Knecht Cup will provide a great test for the Mountaineer squad as over 50 colleges and universities from across the nation will be in attendance.
In addition to last year’s Novice 4+ win, the Varsity 8+ and the Second Varsity 8+ advanced to the Grand Final and Petite Final, respectively, foreshadowing the potential of this year’s more experienced squad.
Following the Knecht Cup, the Mountaineers will return home to prepare for just the third home spring race in program history, set to take place against Dayton on April 21.
The teams have developed a regional rivalry, having raced against each other numerous times in the past as Dayton has competed twice in Morgantown and the Mountaineers have competed once at Dayton’s venue along with meetings at other regattas.
After the home dual race, the Mountaineers will travel to the Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis to compete against Iowa along with BIG EAST foes Notre Dame, Rutgers and Syracuse.
Notre Dame has won eight-straight BIG EAST Rowing Championships, and the opportunity to challenge the Fighting Irish two weekends before the 2012 BIG EAST Championships will provide a great chance for the Mountaineers to assess where they’re at heading into their final and most important race of the season.
“The biggest difference in this season’s schedule is the number of BIG EAST schools we’ll face before the conference championships,” says King. “In past years we might have raced only two or three schools prior to the championship; this year we may race up to six of the BIG EAST programs before all eight come together in May. Without doubt, the quality of our race schedule will both test and prepare us for the championships.”
This year’s BIG EAST Championships will take place on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., on Sunday, May 13.
The Mountaineers are looking to improve upon last year’s showing, where the Second Varsity 8+ placed second in the Petite Final, the Second Varsity 4+ placed third in the Grand Final, and the Varsity 4+ and Varsity 8+ both placed sixth in their respective Grand Finals to earn the team a total of 54 points, resulting in a seventh-place finish.
Last year’s results have provided motivation for this year’s Mountaineers and that, along with changes made prior to the 2011 BIG EAST Championships that eliminated the novice category of racing, will allow for a stronger finish this season.
With 21 experienced student-athletes returning to this year’s line-up, including nine seniors, the Mountaineers are ready to prove themselves and earn their place among the elite.