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No Rest For The Irish Rowing Program in 2002

March 6, 2002

Notre Dame, Ind. – For the Notre Dame rowing team, good things have happened quickly for this up-and-coming program. Never one to rest on its laurels, head coach Martin Stone and the Fighting Irish are looking for 2002 to be the best season yet as the Irish return all but four women from the top two boats last season.

Notre Dame has a lot to brag about after an outstanding 2000-01 season which saw the Irish achieve their first national ranking in the history of the program, finishing the campaign 16th in the country. The Irish varsity eight also took its first gold medal in a major race when it won the Head of the Elk during the fall season. The varsity eight went on to win five of eight races in the spring and finish fifth at the NCAA Central Regions, just missing an invitation to the NCAA Championship.

Notre Dame’s Michelle Olsgard and Ashlee Warren were named to the College Rowing Coaches Association all-Central Region team, while Becky Luckett and Warren became the first Irish athletes to earn US Rowing Collegiate Honor Roll accolades.

Academically the Irish excelled as well as senior Leah Ashe became the first Notre Dame athlete to earn academic All-America honors. Katherine Burnett, Ann Marie Dillhoff, Luckett and Warren were named CRCA National Scholar-Athlete award winners, marking the largest number of Irish athletes to earn the honor in a single season. Notre Dame also had 24 women named to the BIG EAST Academic All-Star team.

“We had such a great year in 2000-01, yet we are not resting on last year’s success. Last year gave all of us confidence we could race well,” Stone said.

Stone expects that confidence to boil over into 2001-02 as 22 athletes return to the varsity squad. Also, 12 women make the leap from the novice roster to the varsity squad with each of those athletes expected to make major contributions in the top boats. The Irish also welcome eight freshmen to the varsity team who will make an immediate impact, giving Notre Dame the most depth it has ever had in the four-year history of the program.

That depth was seen this fall as the Irish fared well in the four regattas they raced. The varsity eight won two of three races this fall (Milwaukee River Challenge and Chicago Chase) and was second at the Head of the Rock, its best finish ever at the event. The second varsity eight was third in Milwaukee and finished second in Chicago. The pairs also fared well as Burnett and sophomore Jayme Szefc finished first at the Chicago Chase and second at the Head of the Rock. Overall, Notre Dame took four of the top five spots at the Head of the Rock in the pairs race.

“We spent the fall working on being a team and melding our recruited freshmen, the novices and the returning varsity rowers into a cohesive group,” Stone said.

“On the water we worked on technique, really focusing on the pairs and the fours more than the eights. We know that fast pairs and fours in the fall produce fast eights in the spring. I was very pleased with our fall results as our boat speed was faster than in prior years.”

Dry-land training has also gone well for the Irish this winter as the Irish have tested faster on the ergometers than in any other season. In fact, former novice rower Natalie Ladine posted the fastest time this winter, just edging out Warren, an all-Central Region honoree.

“People have not stood on past performance and newcomers have continually pushed the veteran rowers,” Stone said.

“We should be faster than last season and we have more depth, therefore leading to more competition. Last year, there were very few questions on who should be in what boats, but this season there are 15 to17 people who could row in the first eight.”

The fight for seats in the first eight will be intense as the returners are being pushed to the limit by a number of newcomers. Notre Dame welcomes back all-region honorees Olsgard and Warren, who are expected to anchor the first boat again in 2001-02. Warren was perhaps the biggest surprise last year as she made a dramatic jump from the novice roster to becoming one of the top rowers in the region, while Olsgard was invited to the U.S. National Freshman Rowing Camp at the national team training center in 1998. Other varsity eight returners who will be looking to regain their positions are Diane Price, Burnett, Luckett and Szefc. Both Szefc and Price immediately stepped into the top boat as freshmen in 2000-01, while Burnett is in her third season in the top shell. Luckett is getting back into race shape after missing the fall season to study abroad in London.

No position is safe though as many athletes are knocking on the door. Veterans Melissa Alberding, Katie Besson, Erica Drennen, Courtney Mercer and Kerri Murphy have all had impressive fall seasons and made dramatic improvements this year. Also, former novices Jacqueline Hazen, Natalie Ladine, Danielle Protasewich and Kathleen Welsh have made the jump to the varsity squad this season and have grabbed the attention of the coaching staff, while freshmen Kati Sedun and Elizabeth Specht have a chance of making the top vessel.

The biggest question staring Stone and the Irish squarely in the face is making up for the loss of coxswains Claire Bula and Erin Kiernicki. Both three-year monogram winners, the former captains were the heart and soul of the Irish squad in 2000-01, but junior Cassie Markstahler and sophomore Kathryn Long look to pick up where the dynamic duo left the program – in great shape. Markstahler coxed the varsity four in 2000-01, and looks to be the leading candidate to direct the varsity eight this year, while Long, who switched from rowing to coxing last season, is in position to guide the second varsity eight.

“Cassie is a take-charge kind of coxswain. She is hard working and will really help the team this season, especially with the graduation of Claire and Erin. She learned a great deal from the two of them and is ready to lead this team. Kathryn brings a different insight to her crew being a former rower, which I thinks works to her advantage,” Stone said.

The nice thing about having 15 to17 rowers who could row in the first boat is the ones who do not will row in the second shell, making Notre Dame’s second boat a force to be reckoned with by the opposition. Others who will be fighting for seats in the second eight include seniors Maureen Carr and Meg Feely, sophomore Megan Sanders and freshman Kristen Mizzi. Carr and Feely were in the second varsity eight last season that experienced its best year in history by finishing first and second in every race but one in 2000-01. Sanders makes the leap from the novice roster, while Mizzi was a four-year rowing letterwinner at Riverview High School in Riverview, Mich.

The varsity four will also be strong as senior Kolleen Myers, sophomores Michaele Carney and Antoinette Duck and freshman Kristin Henkel look to be the leading candidates for this boat. Myers, who is one of only four people in the history of the Notre Dame rowing program to earn three monograms, led the varsity four to a third-place finish at the BIG EAST Rowing Challenge in 2001. Carney and Duck were members of the novice roster last year, while Henkel was a three-year letterwinner at Miss Porter’s School in Manchester, Conn.

Sophomore Kacy McCaffrey and freshman Caitlin Rackish will vie for the varsity four coxswain position. McCaffrey was the coxswain of the first novice eight in 2000-01, which did not lose a race until placing second at the BIG EAST Rowing Challenge. Rackish is a freshman who coxed the first novice eight in the fall.

“The great thing is the strides people are making,” Stone says.

“I am not sure where everyone will end up, but I do know that everyone is working as hard as possible to the make the boat they row in the fastest it can be.”

That goes for the novice roster as well under the direction of assistant coaches Pam Mork and Joe Schlosberg. The Irish depend greatly on the development of the novice rowers as 16 women jumped from the novice to varsity squad in 2000 and 12 more made a similar move this year.

“One of the most exciting aspects of the novice roster is the rate of improvement,” Stone says.

“On a daily basis, I see light bulbs go off as our athletes grasp a new aspect we have been working on in practice and training. The addition of scholarships also has played a key role, allowing us to be more competitive in the recruiting process and signing more experienced athletes.”

That experience will make a big difference as the Irish face one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2001-02. After facing national powers Iowa and Wisconsin in the fall, Notre Dame opens the 2002 spring campaign with a dual regatta against a much improved Tennessee squad, who won the club eight at the Head of the Charles in the fall.

After a dual with 2001 NCAA participant Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., the Irish once again will travel to the west coast for the prestigious San Diego Crew Classic. Notre Dame received its first-ever invitation to the Crew Classic last season, placing sixth in the Jessop-Whittier Cup that featured the nation’s top crews.

Notre Dame then goes to Indianapolis, Ind., for what they hope will be the first of two trips this spring, competing in the Indiana Crew Classic. Indiana and Purdue are both improved squads, while first-year program Eastern Michigan appears to be taking off and should be very fast.

For the second consecutive season, the BIG EAST Conference is sponsoring the BIG EAST Rowing Challenge in Worcester, Mass. In 2001, Notre Dame finished second in the team competition, claiming third in the varsity eight and second in the both the second varsity eight and the novice eight. All of the teams should be faster than last season, with the top teams being Syracuse (who went to the NCAA Championships in 2001), Rutgers and Miami.

The BIG EAST Challenge will serve as a good test for the Irish before heading to the Central Regions in Oak Ridge, Tenn. In 2001, three teams (Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa) from the Central Region went to the NCAA Championships as a team and Michigan State received an at large bid. Stone believes 2002 will be no different as the region could be the toughest it has ever been.

“I think the Central Region has the best quality and parity of any regional race in the country,” Stone says.

“This race has 20 of the top teams from the Central and South regions. Teams know their performance here have the most impact on NCAA bids. The racing, from heats to finals, is fantastic and I expect it to be even better this season.”

But the ultimate goal of the Irish this season is to receive their first-ever bid to the NCAA Championship May 31-June 2 in Indianapolis. The NCAA has expanded the championship field with 12 teams (up from 10) receiving invitations to the national regatta. Four eight-woman boats also will receive at-large bids in 2002. Stone has high hopes that Notre Dame will receive one of those bids.

“We know if we focus on working together and making the boats go as fast as possible, we will put ourselves in position to receive an invitation to the NCAA Championships.”