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Difficult schedule prepares Irish for postseason competition

| Friday, May 17, 2019

Notre Dame’s season was filled with travel across the country, as it experienced both defeat and victory. In March, the Irish began their spring season at the Cardinal Invitational in Oakridge, Tennessee. Four out of the five Irish boats finished in first place above the field, and the fastest time was posted by Notre Dame’s first varsity eight at 5:46.098.

A month later, the Irish traveled to the Lake Natoma Invitational in California, racing against crews from the USC, Gonzaga, Sacramento State, California, Stanford, Tulsa, Miami and Brown. Notre Dame’s first and second varsity eights came in second place behind USC, posting times of 6:41.03 and 6:46.24 seconds, respectively.

Later that month, Notre Dame raced close to home in Bloomington, Indiana, at the Dale England Cup. In races versus Indiana and Michigan State, the Irish were able to win the third varsity four event, with the first varsity eight grabbing a hard-fought second place finish by edging out the Spartans by about a second.

Notre Dame then competed in the Longhorn Invitational in Austin, Texas, where they struggled against a tough field. The first varsity eight posted a time of 6:38.95, about 16 seconds slower than the race’s winner — Texas. Irish head coach Martin Stone commented on the difficulty of Notre Dame’s schedule as he reflected on the year as a whole.

“There has been some very good points and some not so good points,” Stone said. “In terms of racing, we have done well, but we have been a little inconsistent. However, we have raced a really hard racing schedule, so that’s why our win-loss ratio is not so great. The races were tough by design to prepare us as we go into the postseason. We have seen extremely fast teams, so we know the effort required to race at that level going forward.”

Stone further explained that the Irish’s schedule was one of the most grueling challenges that the team had to face, but he also said that they learned a lot from the races.

“The biggest challenge is that our race schedule is really tough. By the time we are done with the ACC tournament, we will have raced 10 or 12 of the top 20 crews in the nation and that difficulty has been the toughest aspect of the season,” Stone said. “We’ve had great growth because of this, and we look forward to racing these top teams. Racing against the best crews allows us to know what it takes to go that fast. There are no surprises anymore.”

As the season winds down, the Irish are ready to rebound after a slower performance in Texas, preparing for a strong showing at the ACC Championship in Clemson, South Carolina, on Lake Hartwell beginning on Friday. Notre Dame’s first varsity eight is seeded third behind strong crews from Syracuse and Virginia. The Irish’s second and third varsity eight are seeded fourth in their respective races, and both of Notre Dame’s varsity fours will race seeded third. Stone outlined how the team has been structuring their practice schedule as they prepare for some of the biggest races of the year.

“We have a workout schedule … that is based on how many days there are until a major race,” Stone said. “We are racing next Friday night, so we will work backwards from there and determine our workout for the day.”

With the length of the season setting in, Stone said he admired the energy and toughness each rower brings to each and every practice despite inclement weather, weariness and off days.

“I am most proud of my team’s daily fortitude in practice,” he said. “They have been training really hard in all kinds of climates. We have rowed in driving rain, freezing cold temperature and boiling hot temperature. Everyone comes to practice each day with an attitude of learning and determination. They want to get better and stronger. Even if they might not be having a great day, they try their best and contribute all they have to the team.”

Stone was also impressed by his team’s effort in practice that he described it as his favorite development of the season.

“The highlight for me was how the team responded to some of the toughest workouts that we have done,” Stone explained. “They have attacked these challenges head on even when the team was in the middle of a very heavy training workload. They always got their workouts done, and that was really impressive.”

At the end of this season, the Irish will graduate nine rowers in the senior class: Kelly Fischer, Bridget Geyer, Jennifer Groth, Evie McManus, Laura Migliore, Molly Pierce, Elizabeth Schrieber, Katie Wiedenhoft and Ashley Young. The remainder of the team is very young with 18 freshman, 17 sophomores and 12 juniors on the roster. With so many underclassmen to lead, the nine seniors were very important to the development of the team as a whole and experience rubbed off on their teammates.

“[The seniors] have continued in a tradition of growth, maturing and learning the nuances of the sport while they have been at Notre Dame,” Stone explained. “As seniors, they are role models for the underclassmen and women, and they have all provided solid contributions to the program.”

Stone also pointed out that some of the athletes only picked up the sport when they first enrolled at ND and are now competing on the highest level of collegiate athletics.

“There are some people who started rowing in August and are now racing in the ACC,” Stone said. “There are also some people who have rowed at a high level all four years and have made great improvements this year as well. The team has developed pretty nicely overall.”

Following the ACC Tournament the Irish will hope to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the end of May. However, the Irish are sure to have their hands full in the race to come. Competing against a field that includes No. 10 Virginia, No. 17 Duke and No. 18 Syracuse, Notre Dame, who received 10 votes among the ranking, will likely be an underdog to win this race. However, the team’s preparation against eight top-20 teams this season has given them a glimpse of what they can expect to see at the conference championship.

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