Whether it’s his own crews battling in-house for seats in boats, or a spring racing schedule that features a challenging series of national-level opponents, Clemson rowing coach Robbie Tenenbaum is prioritizing strong competition.
“I’m really excited about our racing season,” said Tenenbaum. “I’m not just excited about the races that we have upcoming, but about the team and the level of dedication that we have this year from top to bottom.
“We have some great competition on our team, and it’s making everybody stronger. We have a nucleus of people who have sort of solidified themselves in the first boat, the second boat, and the four. But there’s also a few people who could go either way, who are in the first boat but could wind up in the second boat, or vice versa.”
Tenenbaum believes that stronger competition within the team can only enhance its performances against other programs. And the opportunities for testing that assumption will come early and often, as a slate of home races in March culminates with a trip to the west coast for the San Diego Crew Classic.
But prior to that, the highlight of the home schedule in March is a seven-school race on Saturday, the 17th, when the Tigers host Boston University, Iowa, Indiana, Marist, Purdue, and future ACC-member Syracuse.
“We have a number of home races before we hit the road for the first time,” said Tenenbaum. “We started our spring racing schedule with Eastern Michigan, and that went great. Then we raced a very strong Northeastern team. Then the following week we have that seven-boat race, and that’s going to be a great race. It’ll be great for our team to have that kind of competition, and line-up against six other crews from six different schools early in the season.
“Iowa is coming down for the first time, and has some strong kids and is always a strong team nationally.”
The Tigers complete their March homestand on the 24th, when they host Kansas, which is also visiting Clemson for the first time. That’s the final tune-up before the trip to California and the San Diego Crew Classic, which is a two-day regatta that begins on the last day of the month, and showcases a competitive field comprised largely of NCAA Championships participants from last season.
With a new system for NCAA qualification set to begin next year - a system that could potentially make it more difficult to secure an at-large bid - Tenenbaum is looking to habituate his team to more demanding competitions, and the San Diego race is a purposeful step in that direction.
“We’re still one year away from automatic qualifiers,” Tenenbaum explained. “But as our student-athletes know, and as our coaching staff knows, we want to be the very best, and we’ve set ourselves up with a race-schedule that includes many of the top teams in the country.
“When we go to San Diego we’ll be racing against great competition. There’ll be seven teams racing there that were at last year’s NCAA Championships. One of those is Virginia, so we’re going to see them early in the season, which I’m excited about, because I love racing against the best in our conference and one of the best in the country.
“So, besides Clemson and Virginia, there’s Cal, Stanford, Washington, Southern Cal, and Washington State. Those are the seven schools that will be racing that were at last year’s NCAAs. Plus, UCLA, Texas, and Tennessee, who were all sort of in the category of just having missed last year’s NCAA Championships.
“That’s a lot of quality opponents that are going to be racing in this event, so it’s going to be a barn-burner in the heats to make it to the final, and also in the grand final. It’s a big step-up for us and our kids are excited about it and are training hard so that they’re ready to go.”
As evidence, Tenenbaum mentioned how the Tigers’ boats recently went out in three even eights - the first and second eights, and the first and second fours mixed together - and raced in a manner he described as “absolutely fantastic.”
“We had a particularly cold morning, probably our coldest morning of the year, and everybody was out battling with each other and racing really hard for four pieces,” he said. “I was really impressed with their work-ethic.”