April 8, 2014
By: Katie Reinhard
When current head coach Al Ramirez arrived at Loyola in 2001, he immediately reduced the team down to a freshmen 8 and one pair to set a tone; one that would communicate that he was serious about making swift changes for men’s rowing. And that move paid off: the pair won a sixth-place finish in the grand final in the IRA National Championship in 2003, as well as a silver medal at the Dad Vail Regatta.
“I did not coach the men’s squad at either level my first year,” Ramirez said. “I took over the men's team in December 2002 and that fall we instituted a new set of guidelines for the team's code of conduct. It cost us some athletes and shook things up a little bit. But after that winter, we decide to move ahead with only the two most dedicated lightweight athletes and came up with the singular goal of racing those two varsity men in the IRA national championship.
“We didn't even own a 2-man shell at the time. So for spring break, we demoed a shell, ended up purchasing it after the week-long trial and went on to win the silver medal at the Dad Vail Collegiate Championship. We also finished sixth at the national championship that year.”
Since then, the men’s rowing team grew to be among the top competitors in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Loyola’s home until switching to the Patriot League in July 2013. The squad finished as runners-up five times; in 2005, ‘06,’ 07, ‘09 and ‘10.
“Our favorite MAAC Tournament had to be in 2009 when our Varsity 8 was able to beat the Marist College Varsity 8,” Ramirez said. “They had lost that category only once in the history of the tournament.”
Ramirez and his staff have worked tirelessly in reshaping the culture and dynamic of Loyola’s men’s squad, and this year is a huge showing of their hard work.
“We are just starting to see our third wave of success rising with the combination of this year's incoming freshman class combined with the juniors,” said Ramirez. “Over the years we have always been able to bring in two to four solid athletes from rowing clubs or preparatory school teams that have been able to help us sell the proper intensity level to the younger athletes.”
This year has been no different, as Loyola was able to find some extraordinary talent for the Class of 2017.
“The ones that stand out amongst the freshmen are Ted Fortier and Rob Moore, as well as sophomore Craig McAdams, who literally learned to row one month before our racing started last year. Imagine this happening at any of our other sports; learning the most basic skills of the sport one month before starting Division I competition.
“It all comes down to desire to succeed and a willingness to do the work at the proper intensity that propels them to the top slots.”
Coming in with little experience is rather common in rowing, and it certainly poses a challenge for the coaching staff and teammates to pull everyone up to a competitive standard.
“I wanted something different that I hadn’t tried before,” said Fortier, in regards to his choice of trying his hand at rowing in high school. “I wasn’t actually planning on rowing in college, and had already decided to go to Loyola because I really like the school. My friend Joe [Wawrzynski, a junior captain] rows here though, and he said ‘it’s a great time, there are good guys on the team and we do pretty well,’ so I was sold.”
“The team this year has a decent number of young faces and I think they are adapting well to the schedule shift,” Wawrzynski said of the seven freshmen on the squad, an astounding majority of the 20-man roster. “These young guys aren’t just people on the team though. In many cases, they are pushing the varsity guys to push and be even faster than they would normally.”
“We’re doing pretty well,” added Fortier on the transition. “Most of the other freshmen are novices, so it takes a lot of getting used to. Rob [Moore], who is the other experienced freshman, and I are used to the level of competition, but it’s still an adjustment to us. Waking up at 5:15 a.m. every morning, walking to practice, and doing that for three hours before class is certainly an adjustment. It’s been hard to find time to get enough sleep.”
Despite the truly challenging schedule and the physical toll on the body, the team is looking to this spring season.
“I think this season was a milestone for the crew especially with this young of a team,” added Wawrzynski. “The men had one of the best fall seasons in recent years and are bringing back to the table a competitive Varsity 8 as opposed to the fours we have been racing in recent years. Last year really opened up a lot of guys’ eyes, like, ‘Wow, we really need to work a lot harder if we want to be better at this.’ I think the work as a whole has been a lot more efficient and everyone is pushing each other to go faster.”
As the team looks forward to the rest of the spring schedule, they must continue to make huge strides in their training to have a strong finish.
“As a physically smaller crew than most of our opponents, we must be fit enough to overcome early deficits to more powerful crews,” Ramirez said. “We need to use sheer endurance in the mid-race and also find cleaner and more efficient techniques.”
“Coach Ramirez is really excited about this year because we are really motivated,” Fortier said. “We’ve been doing lots of ERGing; lots of hard intervals with a short break to get us ready to be out on the water. He really wants to revamp the program and hopefully win another IRA Championship.”
With years of hard work and the team’s recent surge of youth, Ramirez is hopeful that this combination will propel this squad even further than the excellence they have achieved in recent years.