Taking the Water

By Erin Hallissy

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Students who sign up for the rowing program at Saint Mary’s must be prepared to travel three hours round-trip for practices at Briones Reservoir and spend hours a day on warm-ups, weightlifting and Pilates workouts. Rowers train 156 days of the academic year, more than athletes in other Division I sports at SMC.

“You have to sweat; you have to work out; you have to go for long runs,” says women’s rowing head coach Pasha Spencer.

Still, rowing has grown more popular since Spencer was hired at SMC in 2003. The team has steadily increased from 12 women to the current team of 43, and many rowers now compete for four years.

“The harder they push themselves, the more confident they get,” Spencer says. “I don’t have to pat them on the back and say ‘good job.’ They know it themselves because they’ve earned it.”

Kyla Tom, a 21-year-old senior and commodore of the varsity team, had never rowed before she signed up for crew as a freshman. “It’s easy to learn, but hard to master,” she says. “You’re always perfecting your rowing techniques.”

Tom, a health science major from Los Altos, says she’s learned a lot about leadership and communication through rowing.

Rowing and tennis are the two oldest NCAA sports for women at SMC, debuting in 1975. Rowing is a walk-on sport, but Spencer recruits high school athletes, signing five in 2007. The varsity team follows the NCAA format with crews of eight and four.
Saint Mary’s competes in the WCC and the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association, which has 32 women’s teams and 30 men’s teams, along with such events as the Head of the Charles competition in Boston. Spencer says her team’s only limit is the budget. “When we travel, we make compromises. We’ve learned how to make our own sandwiches.”

Spencer also coaches the men’s club team, which grew from three in 2005 to 19 in 2007.

“We’d like to see the men’s team grow,” she said. “We’ve been training them like a Division I team and they haven’t balked at it. They’re nice, hard-working guys. And the women are faster because they’re training against the men.