The thrill of competition is something that generally comes naturally to us as humans. For Nicole Younts, head coach of the Saint Mary's College women's rowing team, one of her local rivals just happens to live under the same roof.
The Virginia native is married to Dave O'Neil, head coach of the women's rowing team at East Bay rival UC Berkeley. Tthey compete against each other, recruit against each other and approach the sport in their own ways, all while raising a family.
It all began for the couple about 10 years ago when Younts was moving to California and looking for a place to live. O'Neil's assistant coach at the time was a former University of Virginia teammate of Younts and knew he was looking for a roommate. So she put the two in touch.
"We were roommates, became friends, then were coaching together at Cal. I was hired to Stanford and moved out around the time we started dating," Younts explains.
The couple was married in 2007 and, at that time, Younts returned to the East Bay to become the assistant coach at Saint Mary's. She was promoted to head coach in 2008. Although many would think it would be wise to separate work and home life, Younts and O'Neil believe it's best to talk about what is going on with their respective teams so they can learn from one another.
Lots of Empathy
They are very supportive of each other because they can relate to similar experiences and issues related to coaching, including busy schedules, traveling, recruiting and a single-minded focus on the team. They often attend each other races, and Younts even admits to wearing Cal gear at her husband's races, particularly since he also wears Gaels apparel at her Saint Mary's races.
"Dave is definitely my biggest supporter and I'm his biggest fan," says Younts. "We talk about everything. We know everyone on each other's teams. We are always bouncing ideas off of one another: training, rigging, racing, team-building."
Even though Saint Mary's and Cal share training spaces at Briones Reservoir in Orinda, the teams typically practice at different times. The exception is generally Saturday mornings, when the two teams are out on the water together. This allows for some quality family time with their young son, Dash, who is growing up around the sport. "He's spent a lot of time around our team and at races," says O'Neill.
Cal is known for being a national athletic powerhouse, and the women's rowing team is no exception. O'Neil has coached the Bears for the past 13 years, and he has been invited to the NCAA Championships each year, leading his team to six Pac-10 championships as well as national titles in 2005 and 2006. He was named National Coach of the Year by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association in 1999 and 2005.
"We recognize how special it is to have the support network at home. We both understand what goes into our jobs, and Nicole has been a terrific resource for me as a coach. I'd say our team is better from me having Nicole's input," says O'Neil.
A Successful Year
In her third year as head coach last season, Younts led the Saint Mary's rowing team to one of the most successful years in the programs history by finishing third at the WCC Championships. It was also the first time in the program's history that all three boats placed among the top three in the final standings.
Fortunately, Younts has someone with a lot of success and experience to model her knowledge of the sport. "Dave has been coaching longer than me and has some great experience to share. It's helpful to have someone to talk to who understands the job," she says.
Younts believes if the Gaels continue to work as hard as they have in the past few seasons, they will be among the top contenders in the WCC next year. "It has been a real joy to coach here, and I think my results reflect that," she says.
With a solid group of returning student-athletes, the future of Saint Mary's rowing looks very bright, especially with Younts at the helm.
George Robles '13