After coming off a strong campaign in 2002-03, it appeared as though the University men's crew team did not have much to look forward to in the fall. Five team members were graduating, and more than half of this season's team consisted of young and inexperienced second-year rowers. A rebuilding year seemed inevitable.
Then, one very early morning in the middle of October, things started looking up. At 5 a.m., on the south branch of the Chicago River, the team was rowing up to Pulaski Road to begin practice. Coach Jessica Vandevusse had been shuffling lineups in order to determine which four rowers she would send to compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston. After 15 minutes and 12 seconds, these four rowers had finished a 5,000-meter practice row only to hear that they had just set a new team record on their practice course. This same group would go on to place fifth out of 41 teams at Boston and win a medal on the Charles for the first time in team history.
Yet another test still awaited the team at their final regatta of the season at Elkhart, Indiana on October 27. That Sunday, they would compete against the best crews in the Midwest. In placing third out of 20 teams, the men's team defeated, among several others, the University of Pittsburgh, who had placed second at the Head of Charles in Boston the previous week. Not only was this a solid seasonal end for the men, but it also proved successful for the varsity women, who made a very strong showing by finishing fourth in the lightweight category and placing sixth out of 25 teams in the open women's category. The women's team defeated Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Miami, and Marquette, all very strong crew programs.
"The team has come so far over the past few years because of the training regimen and the level of organization that our coaches have brought to the club," said fourth year men's captain Mike Kelly. "We would've never gotten this far without them."
A week after the end of the varsity season, the novice women's team provided a glance into the team's bright future by capturing third at the Heritage River Regatta in Wyandotte, Michigan, after only a week of water practices and no prior racing experience.
Novice women's coxswain Lulu Al Zaid shared the general team sentiment. "It was an amazing race," she said.
"This kind of mental and physical toughness is a sign of good things to come," added Novice women's coach Antonio Gisbert. "We are extremely excited for the racing opportunities that will come in the spring."
Both the varsity and novice teams are currently in winter training, and will travel to Austin, Texas during spring break in preparation for the upcoming season.