The UC San Diego men’s crew team is directed by Head Coach Zach Johnson and continues to improve each time out.UCSD is getting ready for the stretch run which includes the San Diego City Championships and Western Intercollegiate Rowing Championships in April, and the ECAC National Invitational Rowing Championships in May.Johnson recently took time to discuss the student-athletes’ lives both on and off the water.
Q- What is the difference between this year’s squad and last year’s squad?
JOHNSON -The biggest difference has been a change in desire. Not only did we graduate a number of seniors from last year, but the Head Coach moved on as well. With a new Head Coach and different teammates, the athletes responded well to difficult circumstances and transitioned as if everything was status quo. They voiced their desire to raise expectations to a new level and responded well to changes in their training plan. They recognized the need to work even harder to reach their goals and embraced working at a high level.
Q- Who are your team captains and what strengths do they provide to the team?
JOHNSON -This year we have two team captains. Brenden Carriker is a senior and second year captain. He is an extremely gifted oarsman and leads by example. He is social, but tends to only vocalize his opinion when he thinks it is needed. The rest of the time he spends showing the other athletes how hard to work by doing it himself. Our second captain is Anthony Rubino and he has a style of his own. Much like Brenden he tends to show others how to work by outworking everyone else. Anthony however was a Marine prior to starting school and has brought that intensity to our team. He is a no nonsense individual and the athletes respect the confidence he brings to their boats.
Q- What is a typical week like for the men’s crew team?
JOHNSON -It is defined by hard work. A typical day for a Men’s Crew athlete starts at when they have to leave to drive to the boathouse for practice at every day, six days a week. They will then participate in a practice in which they will row anywhere from 10 to 20 thousand meters at a time. After rushing off for class they then have an additional afternoon practice involving either core strengthening to avoid back injuries and increase leverage or they will be back on rowing machines for up to an additional 15 thousand meters. It is a strenuous schedule and why rowers are some of the best conditioned athletes in sport.
Q- Can you discuss some individuals on the crew team?
JOHNSON -It is hard to discuss individuals in a sport defined as ultimate teamwork. The athletes we have here are one of a kind. I came from a large university where great athletes grew on trees, but they lacked the work ethic. Here I found student-athletes who don’t always have the same athletic potential, but are far better oarsmen because they work hard at it. They approach their sport the same way they approach school. They are used to putting in hard work and getting good grades. The same is true in rowing, if you put in the work you will see the results and they have.
Q- What is the outlook/goals for the rest of the season?
JOHNSON -We have one main goal this year and that is to win the big races. In the past few years we have become one of the fastest teams in our conference and shown consistent speed. We seem to win all of our dual races and place well at our conference championships, but we have failed to win the big race. Crew Classic, WIRA Conference Championships and ECAC National Championships. Those are our goals for this year. We want to have at least one big win, something that will define this team and finally make that jump from 2nd place to grand champion. We have the team to do it this year.
Q- What types of activities does the crew team do together in the off-season?
JOHNSON -Rowing is a unique sport in that it is the only one I know of where a large group of athletes will spend four hours a day together every day. The athletes become extremely close and the result is everything ends up being done together. Our athletes go snowboard in the Winter and surf in the summer. They take road trips and go camping and any other activity imaginable. They are a close group and their friendships normally last lifetimes.
Q- Do you have a favorite crew team roadtrip?
JOHNSON -I think that our team enjoys our trip to WIRA Conference Championships the most. Each year we load up the boats and bus to Sacramento, CA for three days to race. It is a large event on one of the top racecourses in the nation. It is normally attended by parents and alumni and we are lucky enough to have parents who host a dinner for the team Friday night prior to racing starting. The weekend begins with two solid days of racing and Saturday evening we usually have a barbeque at the racecourse. It is a great event and one that we have had every boat medal at for the past two years running.