The date April 16, 2010 will forever be remembered as the day that athletics changed forever at UC Davis. On that day, due to a $1.4 million budget deficit, four sports — men’s wrestling, men’s indoor track, men’s swimming and women’s rowing — were permanently cut by the university.
With two years passing since that fateful day, only one sport, women’s rowing, has survived to compete as a club team.
Although the squad has faced numerous struggles from funding to team membership, the stability given by upperclassmen and head coach Carissa Adams has allowed UC Davis women’s rowing to continue the program’s successful legacy. The program, which won back-to-back Division II national championships in 2002 and 2003, hopes to augment their success this weekend at the Division I level when they compete at the 2012 American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships in Gainesville, Ga.
The journey to Memorial Day Weekend’s Championships has been an eventful one for the women’s rowing program. After discovering that the 73-member team had been cut, players and coaches faced a critical decision about what to do. With an annual operating budget of roughly $75,000, large concerns loomed over whether the team could be sustained as a club program. Following numerous fundraisers and petitions, the team was finally adopted by the university’s club sports program.
“The hardest part about being a club team is managing a budget,” says junior rower Brianna Bieghle. “Although the team held fundraisers when it was ICA, we rely heavily on it to keep our team functioning [now].”
Team membership was hit especially hard by the transition from an Intercollegiate Athletics program to a club sport. Although rowers would not lose their scholarships and priority registration, only 11 members returned to the team in the program’s first club season in large part due to the increased financial pressure on team members. With women’s rowing no longer being part of ICA, some members, like current team captain senior Danika Reddick, even considered joining another club team.
“I looked at going to other teams,” said Reddick. “[But] I chose to stay with it because … [no other sport] had the combo that rowing had which is team and athletic intensity.”
Although just a club team these past two years, UC Davis women’s rowing – thanks to their successful history – has been able to compete and succeed in the premier rowing events around the country at the Division I level.
In last year’s ACRA national championships, all three competing UC Davis boats medaled as the Aggies brought home a gold, silver and bronze medal against teams that were fully funded by their universities. As well, head coach Carissa Adams was recognized as the 2011 ACRA Western Regional Coach of the Year.
Much of the program’s success is due to the unchanging culture that the coaches and upperclassmen continue to instill. Great dedication is still needed by the current 38-member team as players have practice at the Port of Sacramento from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. six days a week.
“It’s a commitment,” says Reddick. “[It’s] different than other club teams because for this one, if you’re not there every day, the eight other people in your boat can’t go out.”
The high standards of the program continued to pay off this year as women’s rowing worked hard to maintain a strong foundation for future success. At this year’s Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association (WIRA) Championships, the novice team finished second in the grand final — beating rival Sacramento State and losing to first-place Gonzaga by less than a second.
“The upperclassmen that were on the team before it became a club sport are valuable to the team,” said freshman rower Erin Glasspool. “They are really hard workers … and are there if we need help.”
With UC Davis’ varsity eight-person team ranked fifth in the nation in ACRA’s May rankings, the future of this once-seemingly dead program is bright. Fundraising continues to be successful as coin drives, bowl-a-thons and many other efforts allow the team to cover over 50 percent of the costly program. In addition, with the help of reserve funds and additional fundraisers, the team hopes to buy a new boat in the next couple of years.
“There’s a sense of pride,” says Reddick. “The other three teams that were cut [are] not here anymore so we’re really lucky to be able to continue.”
DOUG BONHAM can be reached at email@example.com.