Willamette Rowing Set for Rewarding Season in 2009

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University rowing teams are ready for an exciting and competitive 2009 spring season. Willamette will open the season on Saturday, March 28 at the Daffodil Cup Regatta at American Lake in Tacoma, Wash. Races are set to get underway at 9 a.m. (PDT).

“We finished the fall with our women beating all of the area competition from the University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University and Lewis & Clark College,” Head Coach Susan Parkman said. “It’s a good position to be in as we head into the spring.”

WOMEN'S TEAM

The Bearcat women’s team opens the season ranked #11 in the U.S. Rowing/CRCA Coaches Poll for NCAA Division III. The US Rowing/CRCA Poll ranks each team’s varsity eight crew. Williams College (Mass.) is ranked #1. Puget Sound, a Northwest Collegiate Rowing Conference (NCRC) rival of Willamette and a team WU defeated in the fall, is ranked #5 after finishing fourth in the country in 2007-08 (UPS placed third in the NCAA as a team).

Although Willamette doesn’t have a single senior rowing this spring, there are several returning rowers on both teams who will provide leadership and experience. The Bearcats also feature quite a few novices.

Overall, the men’s and women’s teams are larger than a year ago. They will be out to improve on their successes of last spring, when the women narrowly missed the NCAA Championships and the men took second place in both the novice four and novice eight events at the NCRC Championships.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how fast we can get the boats moving,” Parkman said.

Leading the women will be team captain Erica Soma (So., Scott Valley, CA/Scott Valley HS) and co-captain Hilary Andrus (Jr., Chimacum, WA/Chimacum HS). Soma was named Second Team All-Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association as a freshman last year after being the coxswain for WU's varsity crews and rowing on the varsity and novice lightweight crews. Andrus is back with the team after studying abroad during the fall semester.

Soma and Ariana Orford (Fr., Brush Prairie, WA/Univ. of Washington) participated in the Winter Clinic for the Under-23 National Team Identification Camps. Andrus also was invited to attend, but was unable to be involved while studying abroad.

Other top members of the women’s team are Geneva Hooten (So., Vancouver, WA/Mountain View HS), Stina Thorburn (So., Boulder, CO/Niwot HS), Kelsey White (Fr., Camp Sherman, OR/Sisters HS) and Larissa Stiglich (Fr., Vancouver, WA/Univ. of Washington).

Hooten returns in the stroke seat. She will be a key rower and team leader for the Bearcats.

“She guides the team with her enthusiasm,” Parkman said.

Thorburn is very athletic and played soccer in high school. She provided solid efforts in the fall and has the potential to develop into a quality contributor throughout her Willamette career.

“Stina is a really strong oarswoman to watch out for,” Parkman noted. “She’s a good athlete to have on the team”

White and Stiglich both competed in high school. White’s experience was as a single rower, but she has been adapting to the four-seat and eight-seat collegiate shells.

“She’s trained really well,” Parkman said. “It was a perfect fit (for White to join the WU team).”

Likewise, Stiglich has made a quick transition to the Bearcat rowing program.

“She’s bringing a really good work ethic and tradition to the team,” Parkman said, noting the success of Stiglich’s high school team.

Incoming freshmen Sarah Schroeder (Wilsonville, OR/Wilsonville HS) and Karina Hoogstede (Poulsbo, WA/North Kitsap HS) also have contributed. They provide athleticism that is helping the crew ride to a new level.

Willamette would like to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships as the top team in the West. The automatic berth enables the team to enter both a varsity crew and a second varsity crew. At-large selections are able to compete with just one crew at the championships.

“We are working to develop a strong varsity and junior varsity eight and seeing how well we match up with Puget Sound as a team entry,” Parkman said.

In addition, WU has several returning women’s team members with lightweight experience. Kara Hafkey (So., Hillsboro, OR/Glencoe HS), Lacey Ellingson (Jr., Shoreview, MN/Mounds View HS) and Leslie Schultz (So., South Pasadena, CA/South Pasadena HS) will lead the lightweight crews. Other lightweight crew members include freshmen Hannah Waller (Bozeman, MT/Bozeman HS) and Elizabeth Tobey (Salt Lake City, UT/Skyline HS).

MEN'S TEAM

The Willamette men’s team is looking to achieve significant improvement. The squad is a bit larger than a year ago and has benefited from a solid recruiting class.

“We’re probably in our best position in recent years,” Parkman said regarding the men’s team. “We have a solid men’s eight and two solid ‘fours’.”

As with the women’s team, the top competition appears to be the University of Puget Sound.

“Our men went up against UPS (in the fall) and were second in two events and won one due to a timed penalty against the Loggers,” Parkman commented. “UPS is going to be a tough force to break.

The men’s team captain is Nathan Keffer (So., Santa Fe, NM/Monte Del Sol Charter School). John Schmidtbauer (So., Whittier, CA/Whittier HS) is the co-captain and also competes for Willamette in swimming.

“They are offering a lot of consistency and leadership to the team,” Parkman said.

Marc Whitehead (Jr., Sherwood, OR/Sherwood HS) also brings experience to the men’s team. He competed two years ago, sat out his sophomore season, before participating on the Willamette men’s varsity four at the Head of the Charles Regatta this past fall.

Also making important contributions for the men’s team will be freshman Colton Miller (Fr., Pilot Hill, CA/San Marin HS).

“Colton is a recruit who has come into the team and has led from the beginning with his actions,” Parkman said. “He is the sort of Willamette scholar-athlete who makes our team great.”

With increased depth on the men’s team, the Bearcats are ready to make good strides in the Northwest Collegiate Rowing Conference. The NCRC includes Willamette, Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran, Lewis & Clark, Humboldt State University, Seattle Pacific University and Western Washington University.

SPRING SEASON

Parkman and the WU rowers are ready to start competing against other teams and work to gain momentum as the spring progresses. Starting with the Governor’s Cup provides an early competition that features the existing rivalry between Willamette and Lewis & Clark.

It’s the beginning to a schedule that includes three regattas prior to the NCRC Championships at Lake Stevens, Wash., on April 18 and the WIRA Championships near Sacramento, Calif., on May 2-3. For the women’s team, there’s the chance to be selected for the NCAA Championships in Camden, N.J., May 28-31. The NCAA does not hold a championship in men’s rowing.

“I’m looking forward to the season ... to fielding full teams with a varsity and a junior varsity,” Parkman noted.

“It’s a very, very young team,” Parkman added. Even so, “we have some really good athletes who trained smart through the winter … everybody is committed to working hard and getting better.

It helps that Willamette’s women’s varsity 4+ crew took fifth at the Head of the Charles Regatta in 2007 and took 11th place at the Head of the Charles this past fall. The event has given Willamette both exceptional experience and confidence.

“That’s been great in putting us on the map,” Parkman said. “The girls come back from an event like that and really have a good work ethic and a new perspective.”

The commitment by Willamette’s team members to work hard has truly impacted the rowing program. The Bearcats are in good shape, both physically and mentally, as they enter the spring season.

“They trained really well over the winter break and it’s the best off-season training I’ve seen with them working out on their own,” Parkman said. “I feel like we gained a bit of strength. Everyone walks through the door ready to work out.”

Willamette rowers listen to the coxswain during practice on the Willamette River.

Willamette rowers listen to the coxswain during practice on the Willamette River.

Head Coach Susan Parkman provides instructions during a practice.

Head Coach Susan Parkman provides instructions during a practice.

Members of the men's team practice last fall.

Members of the men's team practice last fall.