By Olivia Hayden '16
This year, UC Santa Barbara’s women’s rowing team felt the ebbs and tides of competition.
In 2015, the Women’s Varsity 8 rowing team suffered heartbreak, losing to Grand Valley by only a tenth of a second in the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) national championships.
For UCSB rowing alums Sloan Lewis ’16 and Rebecca Gronsdahl ’16, this year’s race decided whether their college rowing careers would end with on a high note.
“I have never been more terrified sitting at the start line of any race before,” said Lewis. “It was a mixture of the adrenaline starting to hit, the fear of the pain that would soon come with muscle fatigue, and the pure exhilaration of getting to compete for a National Title.”
The 2015/2016 team team combined the few remaining members of the 2015 varsity team and the smaller 2015 novice team.
“As is the case for every year, we lost some excellent athletes to graduation in 2015,” said Mike Homes, UCSB women’s varsity coach. “We also had a pretty small novice team in 2015 and, unfortunately, they didn’t have a lot of competitive success as novices. So, we had to merge that group together with what remained after graduation of a highly successful 2015 varsity squad and we had our share of struggles throughout the year.”
Together, they had a rough start, but by the end of the season things started to fall in place, they finally figured out how to work hard together as a team. “It probably would have been easy for some to give up after struggling for 7 or 8 months,” said Homes. “But this group did not and I think that was their biggest strength.”
Women’s varsity coach Mike Homes began his coaching career as a volunteer during his graduate school days at Purdue University, where he also rowed. From there he went on to work at a small college in Pennsylvania. When a position opened up at UCSB in 2002, he leapt at the chance to be a part of a large program again. While coaching the Varsity 8 team Homes and the team had a series of fourth, and then second place finishes.
“Mike always expected more of me and of everyone on the team and never let us believe for one second that we were the best or that we were at the top,” said Lewis. “Because of this, we always had an ‘underdog’ mentality which helped us to stay humble and pushed us to fight or every erg workout, practice, and race, no matter how significant it actually was.”
The ACRA National Championships spanned 2 days and consisted of 132 races. The wining varsity 8 team took part in the Grand Final, race number 130. The race began as a deadlock between UCSB, Orange Coast College, University of New Hampshire, and Grand Valley State University, and ended with Santa Barbara as the clear winner.
As their boat took the lead, chants of “UCSB!” from their supporters on the shore were the loudest on the lake.
With a time of 6:43.414, the Women’s Varsity 8 team won gold for the first time in the school’s history.
Lewis and Gronsdahl got their wins. “I think we were so successful because the depth of our program as well as the commitment level of the athletes,” said Gronsdahl. “I think this has been inspired by the coaches as well as the athletes.”
This was a glory year for not only the women’s varsity 8, but for all of UCSB rowing. Women’s rowing won a 3 gold and 2 bronze medals, along with the team points trophy. The men’s team won 1 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze. Together, the men’s and women’s teams also won the combined team points trophy.
To Homes, winning the team point trophy was the most important accomplishment of this year’s championships. “More importantly than that one race though, was winning the team title again because that’s something that everyone on team contributes to and hopefully feels a part of,” she said.
With the year over, Lewis is taking some time off before starting grad school, but she’s not done with rowing. She will continue rowing near home and plans on competing with the alumni boat in some races this year. As for Gronsdahl, she will coach the novice women’s team for the 2016-17 school year before moving on to pursue a career with her environmental studies degree.
For Homes, this will always be a team to remember. “I think at some point when I look back on it, this will be one of my favorite teams because of their persistence and ability to overcome adversity,” he said.
Check out how one family made rowing a Gaucho Legacy, in our special eCoastlines feature The Linley Legacy on the Lake