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UMass novice rowing squad finishes third overall

The Massachusetts rowing team sent its novice squad to Dartmouth on Saturday to participate in the Green Monster Regatta, held annually on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire.

The Minutewomen finished third overall, a result determined by combining their two boats’ times. The UMass boats finished in sixth and ninth place respectively.

UMass assistant coach Alex Binkowski traveled with the group and organized two equal boats of eight rowers comprised mostly of walk-ons.

“I would say 65 to 70 percent of our team is made up of walk-ons,” Binkowski said. “Our team thrives on walk-ons. But our walk-ons aren’t like most teams’. Some 99 percent of our walk-ons never rowed before they came and took part in our tryouts.”

Many, he said, excel at other sports including basketball, volleyball and swimming, but they may not have had an opportunity to play on the UMass team and were looking for something more than a club sport.

“It’s a great athletic opportunity,” Binkowski said. “Athletically speaking, it’s a second chance or third chance for a lot of these athletes.”

Binkowski embraces the challenge of trying to get inexperienced rowers ready to compete in a short period of time. Races such as the Green Monster Regatta allow him to integrate the walk-ons with the recruits.

“From my standpoint, their learning curve is just going straight up,” Binkowski said. “I have people who may have rowed a year or two in high school and a lot of people who have never rowed, and I get five to six weeks to try to teach them how to row and get them ready to race. I get to watch them develop during the course of the year, so it’s a lot of fun. It’s rewarding in that way.”

The Minutewomen faced stiff competition this weekend with programs such as Radcliffe and Dartmouth racing two boats apiece in a race totaling 11 boats. It spanned a distance of 4,500 meters and was comparable to a cross-country race, unlike during the spring season when most races resemble a sprint. However the results were not so important to Binkowski as the overall learning experience.

“It was excellent competition,” he said. “But it’s no pressure – low key. It’s a small group in a small regatta. So it just helps them with the whole learning process. It’s a dry run for our spring regattas. I want everyone to learn what it entails.”

While a majority of the UMass novice team has not had formal training in rowing, the same cannot be said for the other programs in attendance.

“I told the novice squad if anybody thinks anybody in the two Radcliffe boats or the two Dartmouth boats had anybody that didn’t know how to row six weeks ago, then you’re kidding yourself,” Binkowski said. “They were all experienced. There wasn’t anybody in those four boats who was new to rowing.”

Nevertheless, Binkowski sees many of his novice rowers eventually working their way into the varsity boats.

“They have nothing but potential,” he said, “and all it takes is continued hard work.”

Pete Vasquez can be reached at pvasquez@student.umass.edu.

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