Four freshmen take on challenge, race with varsity

Kate Berni

April 28, 2009

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - by Megan Tackett, The Western Front

Starting college as a freshman in an unfamiliar town can be frightening for anyone. Joining a four-time national champion team with no prior experience rowing might prove to be a little more intimidating.

This is the first time that half the rowers in the varsity eight boat consist of freshmen since Western's rowing team became a part of NCAA Division II. Kate Berni, Katie Woolsey, Jean Piette and Megan Northey hope to help lead the team to a fifth national title.

"It's an honor to be part of a team that's been that successful," Berni said. "It's definitely nerve-wracking because you want to keep up their legacy."

Although Woolsey said she was initially intimidated, the experienced rowers on the team helped her adjust to the program.

"There's a lot of good role models on the team," Woolsey said. "They don't exactly give a lot of pep talks. They lead by example."

The pressure of keeping pace with the other teammates adds to the intensity of the sport, Northey said.

"You can't ever slow down, and you can't ever ease up. It's not even an option," Northey said. "You're all rowing at the same rhythm. You can't stop or else the boat stops."

Northey holds the best two-kilometer time for the women's rowing team on the ergometer, a machine that gauges the speed of a rower.

This year, Piette broke the team's all-time fitness test record, which includes running one mile around the track, doing 50 push-ups, lunging across the football field, completing 75 crunches, bear-crawling back across the football field and running another mile.

Team captain Audrey Coon said she is continually impressed at how quickly the four freshmen are improving from week to week.

"What great depth this team has that we can put so many really fit novices into the varsity eight," Coon said. "I think that speaks a lot to the potential this program has."

The four freshmen come from athletic backgrounds that exclude rowing, yet their past experiences in other sports have helped prepare them for their future with one of Western's national title-winning athletic programs.

Berni and Northey ran for Western's cross country team and continued running for the indoor track team in the winter.

"After you run, the endorphins just go shooting through you," Northey said. "It really is a drug and I'm definitely addicted to the endorphins."

Piette said the rush she feels after an intense workout is another driving factor to her involvement in rowing.

Piette said the physical demand of rowing is really intense.

"You have to push yourself even when you're too tired to go on," Piette said. "There are seven other girls in the boat that have to work harder if you slack off."

Woolsey said she wanted to try a new sport at Western, and the crew team's reputation drew her in.

After winning their race March 28 against University of Puget Sound by a half of a second, Western's head coach John Fuchs said he looks forward to watching the freshmen improve throughout the season.

"We're eating away at that clock trying to get a little faster all the time," Fuchs said.

Due to anticipated budget cuts, the rowing program will only allow a maximum of 30 individuals on the team next year, Fuchs said.

With the national championship six weeks away, Fuchs said although the lineup is constantly changing, the freshmen will have a big impact at the tournament.

"I know they'll play a pretty big role [at the championship]," Fuchs said.