STANFORD, Calif. – When 2014 began the Stanford Lightweight Rowing team was all in the same place for the first time this season as six juniors returned from studying abroad in four different countries.
Erin Antono, MacKenzie Crist, Jordan Duval-Smith, Alicia Kapjian-Pitt, Kate Kidd and Bailey Yuro each spent the fall quarter studying abroad and returned to the team for Winter Training in Long Beach, Calif. on Dec. 31. While the team came together on New Year’s Eve, it wasn’t complete until Jan. 1 when Duval-Smith arrived from South Africa where she spent the holidays with family.
For the junior and freshmen classes, Winter Training was really the first time they had been able to meet each other. There had been recruiting visits and both Kapijian-Pitt and Duval-Smith had been around for freshmen orientation but those were just quick introductions. This was the first time they would actually train together as one unit and really spend any significant time together.
One might think the six juniors meeting all the freshmen mid-season might be an awkward scenario, but this close-knit group had no problems coming together right away.
“It was great,” said head coach Al Acosta. “People were arriving all throughout the day on the first day of camp. They all were getting together in a big room and introducing themselves. The next morning when we got the team together for the first official meeting they all knew each other already.”
During the fall, the absence of the six juniors made for an interesting team dynamic. Instead of eight upperclassmen coming back, the team only had junior coxswain Allison Nguyen and senior Molly Hayes. With such a youthful team, it forced the sophomore class to step up into a leadership role in training and gave the freshmen a chance to gain more experience in competitions and hands on coaching early on.
“Having the junior class study abroad during fall quarter allowed us underclassmen to have extra coaching during our transition to rowing at Stanford,” said freshman Jackie Huddle. “We had the opportunity to gain experience at the Head of The Charles in Boston where we started our collegiate rowing careers.”
Meanwhile, the six juniors were all off having their own experiences, so keeping the team connected was a tough task.
“We have a Facebook group and everybody was always talking on there,” said Yuro. “I tried to look at all of their pictures and see their faces to get an idea of who they were. We wanted to talk to everybody a lot so they would be ready for us when we returned. When I was a freshman and the juniors were abroad, I didn’t know who they were. We tried to put a lot on Facebook so it might make it less awkward.”
The Facebook group helped the team stay in tune with what was going on around the globe, but didn’t lessen the excitement on both sides when Winter Training began.
“I was a little nervous about it,” said Crist. “They are a great group of girls, are incredible rowers and in great shape, but I was nervous that they wouldn’t accept us back. They were all very nice and welcomed us back. Everybody is starting to mesh well again.”
Huddle, who stroked the varsity eight at the Head of the Charles as a true freshman, mentioned that the freshmen were very excited to have the juniors return.
“The entire team was excited for winter training camp, so we could finally meet the junior class,” said Huddle. “Getting to know the juniors has been so much fun. It's great to reunite as a full team.”
The team got its first chance to really mesh as a group following the first morning row of the trip. After heading out on the water in the morning, they drove up to Pasadena to watch the Stanford football team play Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl Game.
“We all got to go to the Rose Bowl which was pretty fun,” said Kidd. “The result wasn’t what we wanted, but it was still a fantastic team bonding experience.”
The remainder of the five days in Long Beach for winter training was spent rowing twice a day in the Long Beach Marina. It was used as a chance to get back to rowing after the holidays break.
“I thought we got done what we needed to get done,” said Acosta. “A big part of the camp was integrating the juniors in to the team environment and meeting the freshmen, but also starting the process of getting them in shape.”
All six of the juniors who were abroad kept active in their time away, though didn’t spend much time rowing. Some coaches would not allow their student-athletes to study abroad because of the lack of training aspect. However, Acosta sees benefits in allowing his lightweights to have that part of the college experience.
“For a lot of them they have rowed for at least the last seven years,” said Acosta. “For them to take three months away, hopefully they can do some training on their own and come back refreshed. We have won national championships the year that kids have gone away. It can go either way, but if they didn’t come back ready to go then they probably wouldn’t have been ready to go anyway.”
Each of the six juniors who went abroad this year returned with a renewed energy for the sport of rowing. They all agreed that the time spent away from training helped them get refreshed towards the sport they love.
“This is my seventh year straight of rowing,” said Antono. “I guess Al knows that with all the rigor of a season and the academics at Stanford, it is good for both the individual and the team for us to have the chance to go abroad and have that experience before coming back ready to go.”
The willingness of Acosta to allow his rowers to take part in this college experience is not lost on the six juniors.
“It is so special because a lot of coaches wouldn’t have let us go abroad,” said Duval-Smith. “It is something you aren’t normally going to have a chance to do. He probably has a fear that there are girls who are going to go abroad and enjoy the free time so much they won’t come back, but I am pretty sure he had enough faith in us to know that we are dedicated to the team. It brought us back rejuvenated and will only help us over the next five quarters.”
The one-of-a-kind experience for the six juniors who went to Australia, Berlin, Florence and Paris will be told over the next three weeks as each of the juniors tell their own experiences in the Stanford Study Abroad program.