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2008-09 Clemson Rowing Outlook

Jan. 22, 2009

The future of Clemson rowing is bright. With a new facility, new coaches, and a solid foundation to build upon, the Tigers are in a prime position to succeed. Head Coach Richard Ruggieri is in his second season at Clemson, and the program has taken great strides during his brief tenure.

Last season, the Tigers’ Varsity 8+ reached the NCAA Rowing Championships for the first time in the history of the program. Six rowers from that crew return this season, led by Jessica Leidecker, who was a second-team All-American last year. In addition, she was a first-team all-region and All-ACC selection.

Also returning are Megan Bendik and Liz Robb, who were all-region picks in 2008. Robb was named ACC Freshman-of-the-Year after an exceptional rookie season with the Varsity 8+. Hilary Cumbest, Brittany Cummings, and Michelle Nance also return with plenty of experience.

The Tigers have an accomplished senior class, led by Bendik and Cumbest. Carla Englund, Melanie McDaniel, Caitlin O’Neill, Nicole Rau, and Brittany Robinson also have significant race experience and will look to be big contributors this year. Stefanie Kozuszek, a transfer from Murray State, will also bring a lot of experience to the Tigers.

Eight members from last season’s ACC Championship Novice 8+ boat will move up to the varsity this year. Led by coxswain Victoria Graham, this group will bring a great deal of talent and energy to the Tigers this season.

The Tigers were busy preparing for the upcoming year during the offseason, with over 20 rowers competing throughout the world. Clemson sent five athletes to the Under-23 World Championships, more than any other school in the country. The Women’s 4-, which finished fourth in the world, was comprised of Cumbest, Leidecker, Nance, and Robb and was coached by Ruggieri. In addition, 15 Tigers competed at the national level.

Ruggieri welcomed two new members to the coaching staff during the offseason in Andrew Carter and Erin Burton. Carter will serve as the assistant varsity coach and will specialize in small-boat training, biomechanical analysis, rigging, and technique screening. He most recently served as head coach at Bates College, but he also has experience with both Canada’s and New Zealand’s national teams.

“Coach Carter brings a wealth of knowledge, giving our athletes the specific tools necessary for greater success,” said Ruggieri. “This attention will move us closer to an NCAA team bid and an ACC Championship.”

Burton joined the Tiger program as a volunteer assistant coach, and she will assist with the varsity team and introduce sculling to the program. She came to Clemson after a successful stint as both a rower and novice coach at Duke.

“With an incredible work ethic and great listening skills, our rowers will get the best in nutrition, race preparation, and individual goal-setting from Coach Burton,” stated Ruggieri.

After spending last season as an assistant varsity coach, Sarah Donaldson has taken the reigns as the novice coach and recruiting coordinator this season.

“Coach Donaldson’s background as a two-time Olympian along with having a positive outlook and competitive spirit tells me that she is in the perfect position,” added Ruggieri.

Ruggieri, who was named South Region Coach-of-the-Year by CRCA last season, is optimistic about the staff that he has put in place. “We are fortunate to have the finest collection of coaches in the country. When I look at each one I see a staff that has a shared passion for making Clemson rowing the best in the nation. I also see a staff that brings incredible individual strength. When put together, it makes a powerful statement that ultimately gives our student-athletes the very best we have to offer.”

The Tigers experienced great success during their fall season. For the first time in the history of the program, Clemson traveled outside the country to compete in the Head of the Welland at Ontario, Canada. The Tigers also competed at the Head of the Charles in Boston, MA and finished among the best in the nation. At the Head of the Hooch in Chattanooga, TN, the Tigers won all the sweep events they entered and came away with both the ACC and overall collegiate trophy.

New to the schedule this spring is a trip to the Pac-10 Challenge in Redwood Shores, CA to compete against California, Stanford, and UCLA. The Tigers will also compete in the Virginia Invitational, where they will meet Central Florida and Tennessee. Both the Pac-10 Challenge and Virginia Invitational will provide the Tigers the opportunity to compete against some of the most talented teams in the country.

Clemson will start championship racing at the ACC Championships on April 20. The Tigers will also travel to Oak Ridge, TN to compete in the ARAMARK South/Central Sprints, a regatta where they had much success last season. Selections will be made for the 2009 NCAA Rowing Championship at this regional regatta. The Tigers hope to return to the NCAA Championships, which will be held at Camden, NJ from May 28-31.

After finishing 14th in the nation and receiving a bid to the NCAA Championships last season, expectations are high, but so is the work necessary to achieve it.

“To get faster you need to race the best and grow through the specific challenges of racing,” said Ruggieri. “We will train as well as anyone, but to reach the next level, we need to let real-life racing identify our strengths and weaknesses, and in the process learn and grow as individuals and as a team.”

The Tigers are also excited about the completion of their new training facility. The 11,500-square-foot building includes a 2,000-square-foot training area, 80 individual lockers, an athletic training area, laundry facilities, a reception area, a conference and video room, coaches offices, a kitchen, and a team lounge. The improved facilities should provide a boost for the student-athletes, offering them the opportunity to train in a facility that is modeled after a national team training center.

“It is the best!” exclaimed Ruggieri. “Where else can you build a training center just for rowing, a boathouse filled with the finest equipment, a beautiful lake, a six-lane buoyed course, and all on campus? The new training center is amazing.”

With a wealth of resources, the Tiger rowing program has all the tools necessary to increase the speed and depth of its 70-person squad. For Ruggieri, the most important aspect for the team is to improve both on and off the water each and every day.

“It is all about being our best,” continued Ruggieri. “We are competing in an environment where if you stay the same or move slightly backwards, you will fall short. We enjoy being in this position simply because it allows us to reach new heights, and in the process attempt to be our best as students, athletes, and coaches.”