Though Coach Robbie Tenenbaum won’t be overlooking the rest of the competition when Clemson hosts the ACC Rowing Championships on April 21, he’s clearly expecting a showdown between the Tigers and No. 1 Virginia.
That’s based on recent history and the fact that the two schools have finished first and second in each of the past three ACC Championships, with Virginia claiming the last two titles after being dethroned by the Tigers the previous year.
“I think the way the ACC is shaping up is very similar to years past,” said Tenenbaum. “We saw Virginia in a fall race, and they looked to be as strong or stronger than they were when they won the national championship two years ago. I view that as a plus for us, because we get to see them so often. Racing against the best is what makes you better, so that doesn’t scare us.
“Our idea is we’re going to go after them, and try and beat them every time we race them. But they are looking great this year.”
Fortunately, the Tigers haven’t looked too bad of late, either. A sweep of Kansas in four races on March 24 was highlighted by the first Varsity 8 boat winning ACC-Rowing-Crew-of-the-Week honors by posting its fastest time of the year (6:26.08).
Following that success, and facing a strong competitive field that included second-place finisher Washington State, the same first Varsity 8 Clemson crew (Ameerah Aly, Laura Basadonna, Kate Biladeau, Becca Brown, Katie Bruggeling, Heather Cummings, Laura D’Urso, Samantha Duggan, and Giulia Longatti) won the Women’s Collegiate Varsity Invitational Petite Final at the San Diego Crew Classic on April 1.
With some impact newcomers, as well as five rowers and the coxswain (Bruggeling) returned from the first Varsity 8 boat that earned ACC-Crew-of-the-Year honors last year, Tenenbaum has a potent mix of youth and experience, as well as some keen competition for seats in boats.
“We have Becca Brown, Stephanie Cameron, Heather Cummings, Laura Basadonna, Laura D’Urso, and Katie Bruggeling as a really strong nucleus of people that are back from that crew that was named the ACC-Crew-of-the-Year last year,” said Tenenbaum. “And it’s also a really young crew. The lineup tended to change from day-to-day in the early part of the season as people got better and challenged each other.
“But early on, we had no seniors in our first eight, but we had three in the second eight. So we’re a young group, though a lot of those young people are doing a really great job for us. So I think the future is bright for us, and not just this season, but as we move into the future.
“But with that being said, some of the seniors that may have gotten pushed out of the seats earlier have worked really hard to get back in there. That’s created some great competition on our team, and that’s made everybody stronger.”
Tenenbaum is also anticipating better competition within the league itself, and particularly next season when the ACC adds new-member Syracuse and another potentially strong rowing program.
“Syracuse is going to be very good,” Tenenbaum predicted. “They have a relatively new coach in Justin Moore, who I’ve known for some time. I used to race against him when I was in college. We’re good friends and we’ve been competing against each other since the late eighties. He’s doing a great job at Syracuse and they’re getting better and better.
“By the time they join the ACC, I think you’ll see a vastly improved program and a team that can compete to be in the top-half or the top-third of the conference. Again, as a coach I welcome that, and I think it’s absolutely fantastic that we’re adding a really strong team.”
As far as this year’s ACCs, Tenenbaum says that the marquee rivalry between Clemson and Virginia shouldn’t overshadow the other schools in contention.
“Duke was top-three in last year’s ACCs and looks to be improved, and I would think that the top-three schools from last year’s ACCs look to be in the top-three again this year,” he said. “But we never discount anybody, and I know that the folks at Miami, Boston College, and North Carolina are working just as hard as everybody else is to be moving up a spot or two in the conference.”