MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – In an eight person racing shell, the seats are occupied by athletes who fit certain abilities and traits.
For example, lighter rowers who have a good sense of balance may often be assigned to bow seat and two seat, where they will act as a pair to help balance the shell. The most powerful rowers may be often be assigned to five seat and six seat, located in the center of the boat where the most power is usually generated.
For the West Virginia University rowing team, the six seat of the varsity eight crew is currently occupied by junior rower Danielle Widecrantz
Being assigned to six seat is the perfect fit for her, as her strength has been tested and proved time and again this year.
Nearly a year ago, Widecrantz’s younger brother Brian was involved in a tragic accident as he was walking home from school on the last day of his junior year.
A car swerved off the road to avoid slowing traffic and in doing so, struck Brian, causing severe injuries including severe head trauma.
Although Brian remains in a coma today, he has been making some progress and the family continues to hope for a full recovery.
“When I came back to school in the fall, I started meeting with Dr. Ed (Etzel) until it got to the point where there was nothing more he could do for me,” Widecrantz detailed. “He had worked with me to his full potential so when (sport performance consultant) Ashley (Coker-Cranney) became more involved with the team I started meeting with her and she helped me a lot too.
“Rowing gives me a distraction and something else to focus on,” she continued. “Ashley has worked with me about gathering all of my energy and making it about rowing in a positive way instead of a negative way. And I’ve also had family support, of course, and support from the team.”
Widecrantz’s focus, determination and positive energy has paid off as she has earned a seat in the team’s top boat heading into this weekend’s BIG EAST Championships.
An impressive feat considering she was out of the line-up for the majority of the Mountaineers’ fall season.
Although the Mountaineers have never won a BIG EAST Championship, recent changes made to the racing format have leveled the racing field.
The novice category of racing has been completely eliminated and time trials will now be used as a way of more accurately assigning crews to the different levels of finals.
“During time trials, one boat races at a time with the six fastest times advancing to the Grand Final and the next fastest times advancing to the Petite Final,” Widecrantz explained. “We’ve been practicing a lot with that this week because everything is different with a time trial. You go from a flying start; you don’t stop and then go. You have to be ready as soon as you get up to the starting line.”
Widecrantz isn’t worried that the individual racing at the beginning of the championship regatta will provide a lack of competitiveness for her boat.
“We are an internal boat,” she explained. “We do really well working off of the coxswain and she does a really good job keeping it internal because that’s where we perform better. I think we’ll actually have a better chance with the time trial.”
Along with hard work at two-a-day practices, the team has also been having team dinners to stay focused as a group and spend more time together.
“Not that we’re not already together enough,” Widecrantz laughed.
And in a sport where mental strength is just as important as team chemistry, the Mountaineers have also spent time this past year meeting with Coker-Cranney. They met with her once a week up until they left for spring training to improve on their internal performance.
“She’s done a ton of research and you can tell that from the beginning to the end she has learned a lot about rowing because our sport is very different from every other sport,” said Widecrantz. “We actually took time out of our practices to have team meetings with her and that’s something we haven’t really done in the past.
“We brought out positive and negative points that we could all work on and she really helped us to work together more and come out with areas that we could focus on more to become a better team.”
This weekend’s BIG EAST Championship marks the last competition of the season for the Mountaineers, and for the 11 seniors on the team, the last competition of their collegiate careers.
It will be a bittersweet moment for Widecrantz and the other underclassmen who comprise the rest of the team.
“It’s going to be hard because I’m really close with the older girls,” she said. “These are some of my closest friends both on the team and in general. They’re a really big part of our team and they’ve really brought our team up a lot over the past four years.”
Sunday’s regatta also marks the last racing event before Widecrantz prepares to head back home for the summer to spend time with her family.
An elementary education major, she has a job lined up at a local nursery school to gain experience and she plans to take a few summer classes as well, two on campus that will last for three weeks and one that she can complete online at home.
She’ll also spend time training with local teammates that she rowed with in high school who also row at college and who will be home for the summer as well.
But first things first. One more weekend with her closest friends and a chance at winning the program’s first BIG EAST title.
“BIG EAST is our biggest race of the year,” Widecrantz ended. “Winning a championship has always been our main goal.”