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Youthful Irish learn from small class

Cory Bernard | Wednesday, September 14, 2011

With a group of 45 athletes plus a five-person staff, women’s rowing boasts one of the largest rosters in the Notre Dame athletic department. Of those 45, however, only five will graduate in the spring.

Though unusually small in number, the senior class makes up for its lack of size with talent and leadership. Irish coach Martin Stone said he expects the seniors to make a major contribution to the squad this year.

“It’s unusual to have such a small senior class,” he said. “The last few years we’ve had big senior classes. When it’s only one class you can get away with having fewer people. Plus, the seniors this year are really solid.”

The seniors — Valeria Brencher, Ching-Ting Hwang, Morgan Kelley, Erin McConnell and Katie Suyo — have all played major roles in Notre Dame’s success the past few seasons.

During their respective careers, all have won races as members of either the varsity eight or varsity four shells.

Stone said Hwang was one of the best varsity fours in the country last spring. He added the Irish will count on the seniors this season as well.

“All five of [the seniors] competed for us last year and I expect them to row well this season,” Stone said. “Morgan suffered an accident last fall that kept her from training for about two-and-a-half months, but since she’s been back she has posted some pretty good numbers. [Ching-Ting] is super fit, and Valerie has put up some pretty good power numbers.”

In addition to the experience the five seniors bring to the team, the class also contributes with its intangibles. Stone said his seniors help bring the younger classes up to speed and occasionally communicate more effectively than the coaching staff.

“I think [the seniors] help the younger kids understand the culture of what we’re trying to do here,” Stone said. “Often times the seniors become a bridge between the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and the coaches. Sometimes the younger classes are more comfortable talking to another student than a coach.”

This communication between athletes and coaches stems from the growth of a relationship over four years, according to Stone. He said the seniors are at ease critiquing his coaching.

“We’ve gotten to know each other better,” Stone said of the relationship between the coaches and the seniors. “They are more comfortable talking about things we need to do differently or things we need to change.”

Both coach and player will have to rely on this bond as the Irish look to win their ninth straight Big East title this season.

The hunt begins Sunday as Notre Dame takes on Michigan, Michigan State and Eastern Michigan in Ann Arbor.