What's in a Name?

May 4, 2007

In the past when the UCF women's rowing team traveled to regattas outside the region, the athletes were often forced to explain school's acronym.

"I remember my first year going to some regattas and the people would say, `UCF? Where's that - California- Fresno?'" said junior stroke Caitlin Pauls. "We would have to explain that we were from Central Florida."

That was then when the Knights didn't often venture outside the state for competition. But this is now. This is the year that the Knights have cracked the top 10 in the USRowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Division I Varsity Eight National Poll.

"Now people know that UCF is from Orlando and that we have a good rowing team, that we are competitive with the traditional rowing schools," Pauls added proudly.

The recognition has come with the usual price - also known as good old-fashioned hard work. During a typical week, the team splits its training between the practice facility on Lake Pickett and the indoor rowing machines called ergometers. This year UCF head coach Leeanne Crain and her coaching staff have added more time on the "ergs" to the regimen. Senior captain Melissa Westhoff acknowledges the benefit. " Up North, the teams do a lot more erg workouts because they can't practice when the lakes are frozen in the winter," said the Jacksonville, Fla. native. "In competition, they would always catch us because they have more erg workouts when we would have more time on the water. We still see a lot of time on the water but we are also doing more on the ergs. Hopefully, it will help us match up a lot better with those teams at the end of the season."

The Knights didn't have to wait until May to see the payoff, going undefeated in nine consecutive races against perennial rowing powerhouses like Virginia, Washington State and UCLA. Their first loss came at the hands of then No. 19-ranked Washington at the Windermere Real Estate Classic on April 15. It was a ride that the rowers won't soon forget.

"When we beat Virginia, it was almost like a dream," remembered Westhoff. "I called my parents and said `you aren't going to believe this...'"

Of course, there is more to UCF's success than just training hard. As with other sports, chemistry and mental fitness are also important.

"I think that we all work well together," said sophomore Tanis Franchuck. "We are all good friends and we hang out together a lot of the time. I think that really helps with the chemistry of the team."

Crain agreed that chemistry is an important factor. "All of the athletes in the program have the desire and determination to reach the team's goal of making it to the NCAA Championship," said UCF's fourth-year head coach. "That mentality coupled with a commitment to training at a high level every day in practice has made it possible for the varsity eight to earn those big wins on the water."

Then again, maybe it's the friendly rivalry that exists in the boat that has afforded the Knights so much success. "We have four port rowers who are Canadian and four starboard rowers who are American," said Crain. "Sometimes I think they are competing against each other and that is what makes the boat go faster...and straight."

Although the rowers themselves may chuckle when asked about the competition between the Canadians and Americans, they are very serious when it comes to their singular goal.

"We all want to win," said Westhoff. "When you are in the boat, you know that your teammates are pulling just as hard as you are because they want to win as much as you do."

In order to attain the team's goal of earning an NCAA Championship berth, UCF will most likely have to earn a spot in the grand final at the South/Central Regional, which takes place in Oak Ridge, Tenn. from May 12-13. Prior to that regatta, the Knights have to remain focused as they have a two-week hiatus from competition.

"We have to concentrate on our training because that is going to be the key," said Pauls, who hails from St. Catharines, Ontario. "We need to make sure that we keep everything together, keep pushing ourselves."

"NCAA bids are extended after the South/Central Regional, so our performance there is critical," said Crain. "This has been an incredible four-year journey for me. Every year, I've raised the bar and the athletes keep jumping over it."

This year, with all of the pieces falling into place, the Knights could very well jump into that NCAA bid and make a run at the championships. Maybe then they will no longer have any explaining to do.