55 Years and Still Rowing Strong: A Spotlight on UCSB’s Rowing Team

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Photo by Graeme Jackson

Sarah Renard
Staff Writer

UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) is home to many club and intercollegiate sports. One such sport is UCSB’s crew rowing team, which was one of the university’s first-ever club sports teams. UCSB’s crew team was founded 55 years ago in 1965 with just nine men and some borrowed boats. From there, the team slowly began to grow and win various races, transforming it into the team it is today.

A few years later, a group of women that supported the team, known as Shell and Oar, decided they wanted to get in on the action — and that is exactly what they did. What was once just a men’s sports team became a full-fledged men’s and women’s team, with each split into varsity and novice rowers.

Since the team’s founding, it has seen a lot of growth. Now, with the men’s and women’s teams combined, UCSB’s crew has over 100 athletes. The self-funded club sports team is also now a nationally distinguished team that competes against Division I, Division II, and Division III teams at the highest level. The team has consistently performed well at the national level, earning many National Championship titles — an impressive accomplishment which no doubt has led to their national distinction.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Alyssa Dewey, head coach of the women’s rowing team, spoke about the upcoming winter and spring seasons, stating that the biggest challenge facing the women’s team is maintaining enthusiasm for the sport during the team’s coaching transition. What Dewey refers to is the women’s team hiring a new head coach in the middle of the winter season last year and a newly hired novice coach in fall. 

The women’s crew’s primary focus is to build fitness and maintain members so the team can continue to thrive. Additionally, Dewey hopes to see the team “improve individually on their erg tests and bringing their [rowing] splits down on the water.” The coach also hopes to see the team “hold onto the pack” as many of their races are against Division I teams.

In another interview conducted by The Bottom Line, men’s head coach John Paul “JP” Sekulich said the team’s primary focus is on “American Collegiate Rowing Association’s National Championships [ACRA] and Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s Western Regionals [WIRA],” but more specifically, “training and having healthy athletes so that they can row smoothly out on the water” while also focusing on their academics. 

Sekulich hopes the team sees the season as a positive experience and as a result, grow not just as rowers, but as individuals as well. Sekulich believes the biggest challenge is environmental factors such as wind and fog, which affect the ability to get out on the lake.

When asked about his thoughts going into the season, men’s crew rower and fourth-year music composition major Nicholas Capsimalis said, “I’m mostly excited for the season because of the progress we’ve made but I also know we have some things to work on.” 

Capsimalis said his personal goal for the upcoming seasons is to place first at ACRA. As for his goals for the team, because he is in his last year, he hopes to see continued improvement so that the team is in a good place when he leaves.

Also in her last year at UCSB, fourth-year philosophy major Sarah Wyner, a rower on the women’s team, said she personally hopes to place first at ACRA and improve her split on the erg, which refers to a rower’s speed and the time it would take to row 500 meters. Wyner added she’d like to leave her own legacy and graduate knowing she pushed the team to its limits. 

“I’m very excited and optimistic for what winter and spring have for us … It’s been really inspiring to see the girls push themselves to greater heights,” said Wyner. Confident in the team’s abilities, she believes the team will continue to do amazing things this season as long as they “continue putting in the work and being consistent with our vision.”

The team’s goals are a testament to their dedication to the sport, which showcase their willingness to push themselves to reach those goals. Over the last 55 years, both teams have rowed their way to multiple championship titles and won various trophies at regattas including ARCA and WIRA. Even now, rowers and coxswains continue to set goals in hopes of carrying on the legacy that the rowing alumni has left for the team and aim to continue doing so for years to come.

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