Illinois men’s and women’s rowing team complete first race of the season

By Carley Kulenkamp

The Illinois men’s and women’s rowing team rowed down 4.7 kilometers of water at the Head of the Rock race this past weekend, marking the beginning of the season.

Both teams traveled to Rockford, Illinois, to compete. The men’s varsity team had a crew finish sixth and a crew finish seventh overall in the Men’s Collegiate II division. One women’s crew competed and placed 16th. The Illini also sent both men’s and women’s novice teams to the race.

Head coach Bill Grier was glad that the novice teams competed and got some racing experience. The men’s novice team actually finished third, which is the highest Illinois’ men’s novice team has finished in a long time.

In the end, Grier was impressed with the results for both the men and women.

“The women have been struggling a little at practice,” Grier said. “So it was exciting to see them find a rhythm and build on that.”

This year’s men’s team returns many seniors, and both men’s and women’s teams return capable leaders. Along with leading, Grier said that the athletes are doing a lot of hard work behind the scenes preparing for the races.

Next week the Illini are sending two varsity crews to Boston for the 51st Head of the Charles race. Due to a lottery drawing for a spot in the race, Illinois will not be sending a women’s team to this race.

Going into this race, the goal is to have both boats place in the top half of the competition. Grier said that the collegiate fours division is very fast and will prove to be good competition. The club fours division, however, is harder to predict because competition ranges from high school crews to elite crews.

Rowing had a leadership transition leading into this year welcoming new director and men’s and women’s head coach to the helm, Bill Grier. Grier served as the men’s coach last year, splitting duties with the former head coach Erik Kroeker, who served as the women’s primary coach. Along with Grier, the Illini welcome Michelle Victora as the women’s novice coach and Noel Naughton as the men’s novice coach. Victora and Naughton both began helping the team this past spring. This is the first year that the Illini novice teams each have their own coach.

“They (Victora and Naughton) have both grown into their roles of taking over their teams,” Grier said.

For Grier, taking on the responsibility of head coach has been a busy but fun process. Stepping into this role, Grier is welcomed by the largest men’s team Illinois has seen (18 varsity rowers) and a full varsity team of eight rowers for the women, another first.

Looking ahead this season, both teams share a common goal of competing at the National Championship. In the past, Illinois has had individual boats win the national championship, but they have yet to have the team win this honor. This year may be the year because the team has greater depth and speed than in the years past.

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