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No. 5 Rowers open spring at Oak Ridge Invite

Coming off top-5 NCAA finish, team seeks third title in five years

Racing for the first time since November, the No. 5 Virginia women’s rowing team hits the water March 15 at the Oak Ridge Cardinal Invitational to open the spring season. Two years removed from a national championship, the Cavaliers will try to make a statement against a field of teams which includes three other top-20 teams.

With winter training now in the books, the Virginia rowers have been itching to get back outside in actual boats, rather than just on machines. Though recent winter storm has added some delay as the team waits for the ice to melt, coach Kevin Sauer is positive his team will be ready come next weekend.

“We’re expecting [the team] to race hard and as well as they can at this juncture,” Sauer said. “Everybody is in that same situation [frozen in], so most of the people we’re racing aren’t going to have a whole lot of water time. It will make for a fairly even playing field because of that.”

The competition at Oak Ridge should provide a good first test for the Cavaliers, and will definitely gauge how productive offseason training was. Among teams present will be host No. 20 Louisville and No. 13 Notre Dame, as well as West Virginia and Alabama. It’s a familiar location for Virginia, which raced at Oak Ridge several times in recent years.

“Oak Ridge is a race we do every spring season, and it’s really fun with a lot of different teams out there racing,” senior captain Emily Pik said. “We race multiple teams multiple different times throughout the weekend, which is really nice, because some of our races this season are more dual races than this one.”

Pik and fellow senior captain Elle Murray lead a team which has become a common fixture at the NCAA Championships. After finishing runner-up three times between 1999 and 2007, the Cavaliers won their first NCAA Rowing title in 2010, repeating as champions in 2012.

Virginia finished fifth at NCAAs last season, while Big Ten team and current-No. 1 Ohio State laid claim to the crown. Although finishing top-five in the nation would be a great result for many teams across the country, the Cavaliers know they could have done more, and will try to bring the trophy back to Charlottesville this year.

“Our motto is ‘three out of five,’” Pik said. “We won in 2010 then again in 2012, so now it’s time to do it again. At NCAAs last year, we finished fifth which is what we went in as, but we weren’t super satisfied with it. The best thing to do is give it our all every single day and every single race and see where it gets us.”

As captains, Pik and Murray will be looked up to by the more than 70 girls on the team for guidance throughout the season. A very young roster featuring 31 freshmen means the pair will have to put in extra effort to prepare for the rigors of the season a more veteran squad would be better accustomed to. Still, the team’s youth poses a lot of potential for growth and promise for the future — especially when the group is already ranked in the top-five nationally. The coaches are confident in their abilities, and have already seen the senior captains fulfill their roles.

“They’re great leaders, trying to keep a pulse on the team and give that back to the coaches,” Sauer said. “They’ll probably end up in different boats, but they’ve done a great job of working hard themselves and leading by example.”

With six events and just less than three months standing between the Cavaliers and the NCAA Championships, there is a lot of work to be done. The team doesn’t expect the task of winning another title to be easy, but it can be done if they all put their heads down and work hard in practice and at races.

“There’s some great competition out there,” Sauer said. “We’re striving for excellence each and every day, and it’s going to be a difficult road to pull it off. We all know that — we know it as coaches and they know it as athletes — and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”