After six-straight weeks of intense pre-season training the University of Victoria Vikes women’s rowing team are set for their first competition of the year this weekend, Oct. 13, at the Western Canadian University Rowing Championships in Leduc, Alta. This will also be the first competition for newly appointed women’s rowing head coach Barney Williams, who took over for Rick Crawley.
The Vikes enter as the defending regional champions after winning gold in five events to hoist the banner at Elk Lake in Victoria in 2017. That was the program’s fifth overall conference banner.
This year will be a little bit different as the team is without several fifth years from last season including Jessica Stewart, Morgan Cathrea, Catherine Slamka and coxswains Cassidy Fernandes and Jessica Bateman.
Also missing from this year’s crew are international stand outs Caileigh Filmer and Avalon Wasteneys. Filmer, a 2016 Rio Olympian, recently became a World Champion in the women’s pair and last year won gold for the Vikes at nationals in the single. Both Filmer and Wasteneys won gold together in the pair at the Western championship and were in the women’s eight crew that won gold at nationals.
“We are always really thoughtful about the idea that we are actively recruiting aspirational student-athletes but with Caileigh and Avalon right now they fall beyond our scope,” said Vikes head coach Williams about the duo who are focusing on their national team training this year. “We want to fully support them and they always have a place in our environment. They are supported by our department and with their absence comes opportunity. Several athletes are leaning in on the chances to step in to those seats.”
“There is a lot on the line for our returning athletes,” added Williams. “We are the Brown Cup champions, with lots of medalists from CURCs and there is a bit of sentiment for those senior athletes McKenna Simpson and Larissa McKinlay of some unfinished business. They came up short last year in their minds and they know the most important thing is the national championship banner.”
The Vikes were one point short of the CURC banner last season in Burnaby and will be using this weekend to as a preparation step towards their ultimate goal of becoming national champions.
“WCURCs are a developing and evolving event and there are certain programs that are looking at this as the pinnacle of their season but we must look past it and look at the opportunity to bring another (national) banner home,” stated Williams.
This weekend’s Western championship will include representation from Alberta, Calgary, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and UBC.
A team of 16 Vikes student-athletes and two coxswains will travel to Leduc, about 40 minutes from the Edmonton airport, for the one-day event. First-year Vikes coxswains Olivia Zachariah and Lily Copeland will get their first opportunity to guide the Vikes.
“Oliva and Lily, in the absence of a deep program and being the only two coxswains, have really stepped up and modeled some true character for pushing, stretching and looking for even more when there is no pressure for other contenders in those seats,” said Williams.
The team will be prepared for this weekend thanks to the expertise of their support staff including Sam Heron, Rowing Canada Hub coach, Scott Federy, finishing coach who returns after a few years away from the program, and Allie Delarg and York Langerfeld, who lead in the development area of the program.
“You train at ‘X’ so that you can race at ‘X’ and we have done the right work to go to the start line confident to compete but there is always that tremendous reality that we don’t know what it is that our opposition has done (to prepare),” stated Williams. “There is a sense of respect with us having a target on the back as we are defending Western champions so we have to prepare accordingly. We are not looking to peak for this event as we have our vision towards having the best race possible on Nov. 3-4.”
The Canadian University Rowing Championships will be held in St. Catharines, Ont. on Nov. 3-4.
“There is lots of excitement and we are also aware of the weather and we want to make sure we all get their safely,” said Williams about this weekend’s expected snowy temperatures. “The athletes have really leaned in on the change as far as the daily training environment. There is a cautious optimism about their ability to defend that banner but most importantly is to create some momentum for nationals.”
For full results and coverage of the Western Canadian University Rowing Championship visit regattacentral.com.
Western Canadian University Rowing Championship Crews: