Cal women’s rowing will be back in action this weekend for the first time in almost a year and a half. The Bears’ last race came 516 days ago on Nov. 9, 2019 — before COVID-19 ended the spring rowing season altogether.
This weekend, No. 4 Cal will attend the Las Vegas Invitational on Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, Nevada. The Bears will compete against both non-conference opponents and some familiar Pac-12 rivals. Making the trip will be No. 1 Washington, No. 16 UCLA, No. 19 Oregon State, USC, Washington State, No. 9 Alabama and San Diego.
In a typical year, Cal usually begins its spring season with the San Diego Crew Classic, but the event was canceled this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. To compensate, Pac-12 coaches organized this weekend’s event in Las Vegas where they felt more confident that the event would be allowed to successfully take place.
By no means are the Bears in tip-top shape. Cal is behind in training by its own standards — the blue and gold are just two and a half months into their training due to pandemic-induced restrictions. They were not able to congregate as a full team until recently.
“Most of it has just been trying to get our fitness back or remember how to row after taking so much time off, so it’s kind of one step at a time,” said head coach Al Acosta.
Entering her last year on the team, graduate student Kailani Marchak is looking forward to once again feeling the intensity that she hasn’t felt in over a year.
“There’s something different about a race versus practice,” Marchak said. “You can try to practice a 2k (during) practice, but nothing will ever be the same as going down the racecourse with another boat down and going side-by-side with your competitors.”
Cal’s rowers are also looking forward to seeing their fellow competitors once again — people with whom they have built relationships and whom they have not seen in over a year. According to Marchak, these relationships are forged through friendly competition at the beginning of the season.
This weekend, the Bears will not be as focused on race strategy as they will be on getting back their feel for the water. Per Acosta, this week will entail the rowers feeling familiar nerves once again and translating that anxious energy into boat speed.
The Las Vegas Invitational marks the first of three races for Cal before the Pac-12 Championships. The blue and gold will compete on their home waters against Stanford on April 24 before taking on the Huskies in Seattle on May 1. If the Bears can make the most of the quick turnaround, they may find themselves competing at the NCAA Championships in late May. As with other sports, the attempt at an abbreviated season comes as a response to the ongoing pandemic.
“Three months ago, many of us were skeptical that we were even going to be able to have a season. To be able to get to this point, we all feel pretty good about what we (have) accomplished so far,” Acosta said. “We’re grateful for what we’re doing right now, so we feel like we won quite a bit already.”
Conner Parker covers rowing. Contact him at [email protected].