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Team Gears Up for Last Race of the Season - Head of the Occoquan

 | Published on 11/4/2011
Novice crew celebrates after their last practice of the season, ready to race in HOTO.

DC Stokes took to Anacostia’s water Thursday night for their final practice as they prepare to take on teams across the country in the club’s last race of the season – the Head of the Occoquan. With the daylight having been long gone, rowers gathered at the boathouse after docking, ready to compete in the race expected to end the season on a breath-taking note.   

Members of all three teams – competitive, club and novice – are now slotted in boats with some members having competed just last week for the chance to be seated for Saturday’s HOTO, one of the largest end-of-season regattas in the United States with a course considered by many to be the most challenging in the country.

DC Strokes rower Sheila O’Sullivan said HOTO is tough, but her boat is ready for it. Practices for the club team have focused on endurance pieces both on land-based erg machines and on the water to prepare rowers for the distance that HOTO brings.

“I feel like my boat is amazing,” said Sullivan, who’s rowing in 6 seat in the women’s club boat this race. “We have a women’s 8 on the club team and DC Strokes, as a club and it’s rowing, has improved every year. This is the best season yet.”

Her coach, Kyle Chavers, is confident in the line up for the women’s boat and that the season’s training has readied them for this final race.

“Most of the women we have in the boat have had regular attendance at practice and have been able to translate water time into increased boat speed,” he said. “I like the pair patterns we have put together and am actually excited to see the boat perform as many of the rowers have rowed in this line up or with their pair partners on multiple occasions.”

Coach Chavers believes the women’s performance on Saturday will be based entirely on the level of effort they are willing to put into it and that their practice time has put them in a good position in terms of physical and technical ability to row a good, clean and fast race. But, he said, preparing for an endurance race like HOTO is challenging - many of the preparations are mental and not physical.

“After a full eight months of practices and tough training cycles, all of the women have the fitness they need to compete and row well,” according to the club coach. “However, keeping nine people focused on the end goal of competing and finishing the course of a 20 minute endurance test is tough.”

He’s had the team working hard at taking shorter focus pieces within the body of the race in order to avoid the mid-race slumps that are a result of losing focus.

“Their mentality is what will take them the rest of the way,” he said. “If they hit the water on Saturday thinking singularly, we will do what it takes to row hard and race for the full 20 minutes. I think they will be pleasantly surprised with the results.”

Novice Coach Rachel Freedman is ready to see her team hit the water, too, and has been training her first-year rowers to tackle the length of this race, giving it their all as the season comes to a close. For her rowers, getting seated in this race was a competition in itself.

On October 27, the novices competed during a program-wide 2k erg test for the chance to be seated in the HOTO Men’s Club 8+. This was their first official 2k erg test and Freedman said all of the rowers impressed her with their technique, control, endurance and power.

“Early in the season, it became apparent that this was a group of novices to be reckoned with,” she said. “Practices have focused a great deal on technique work and learning the delicate balance of power and finesse that is needed to move a boat effectively and efficiently.”

When the erg test was done, so was the line up: Former competitive swimmer Brian Lehman topped the charts with a solid time of 7:05 and earned a spot in the stroke seat. Right behind him in 7 seat is Joe Stauffer, who along with novice teammate Joe Radosevich, wowed Competitive Coach Tyler Pabst in October and was boated in the Head of the Charles in the Men’s Club 8+. In 6 and 5 seats, twin towers Brett Freeman (6’2”) and Shawn Stappen (6’8”) pull the average boat height up dramatically – the other six rowers are 5’9” and 5’11”.

“Freeman and Stappen will have to reign in their long strokes a bit, as they share the engine room with solid rowers Anthony Wiesnewski and David Ingenito,” said Freedman. “And in the bow pair – seats with a view – Joe Fedak and Jimmy Fallon will be the first to cross the finish line.”

Stroke ratings for the novices during head season, said Freedman, have hovered around 24 or 26 with practices emphasizing blade connection to the water, full engagement of the legs during the drive, posture and handle heights on the recovery and slow wheels on the tracks into the catch.    

“When all of thee come together in a novice line up, the boats move well, often times challenging the engines in the coaching launches,” she said.

DC Strokes has six boats entered in HOTO – a men’s club 8+; mixed men’s 4+ (40+); women’s club 4+; men’s mixed 8+ (40+); women’s club 8+; and mixed 8+.

The race is at Sandy Run Regional Park, 10450 Van Thompson Road, Fairfax, VA 22039. Visit RONIN RACING’s website for directions and additional information. And view additional entries.