The Washington State University men’s varsity sport club crew team is heading to the Pac-12 championships in California this weekend to compete against some of the top rowing teams in the region.

This is the team’s first overnight trip in 18 months, and Coach Peter Brevick said they are eager to get back into competition after a challenging year.

“It has been a really tough year to be a rowing team,” he said. “We’re excited to go out and represent the university.”

The team’s races are Sunday, May 16 at 10:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. at Nimbus Flats State Park in Rancho Cordova, California.

Going up against the best

The Pac-12 is a strong conference for rowing, Brevick said, and the team will be up against tough competition from schools like the University of Washington, Stanford, and University of California. Unlike several teams in the conference, the WSU men’s team is not sponsored by university athletics – team funding comes from donations and fundraising.

“It’s cool that we’re competing for the same podiums as bigger schools where they have funding from athletics – that we’re going for the same title even though we’re operating in a different way,” Brevick said.

Cougar Crew rowers practice on the Snake River.
Cougar Crew rowers Mark Walker-Rittgers and Sean Swift practice on the Snake River (photo by Ciara McCall).

Cougar Crew will take 18 student-athletes to this year’s championships. That’s a reduction from a typical year, when they might take twice as many rowers, but the team doesn’t view the diminished roster as a disadvantage.

“Roster size is smaller than it’s ever been, but the pandemic has made it so that the guys who are really passionate about the team rose to the occasion,” said senior Henry McRae, the outgoing team commodore who has been with Cougar Crew for four years. “It’s an exciting time to be on the team.”

That sense of excitement is palpable throughout the team – and the Pullman campus, where students and staff alike are eager to see Cougar Crew win this weekend.

“We are so excited and proud to have the crew team go to the Pac-12s,” said Ellen Taylor, associate vice president of student engagement in the Division of Student Affairs. “In what has been an especially difficult year, when activities have been so curtailed, the opportunity to compete at this level is especially sweet!”

Ready for the challenge

The past year has been unique in Cougar Crew’s 50-year history. The team typically holds practice on the Snake River in the fall and spring, driving 30 minutes to the boathouse each morning to row on the calm stretch of water in Wawawai Canyon.

The Cougar Crew team poses for a photo after a race against Gonzaga on April 1 (photo by Peter Brevick).

This fall, due to COVID-19 guidelines, the rowers practiced almost entirely on land – a first for the team. They set up rowing machines on the basketball courts in the Student Recreation Center backyard, placing them 25 feet apart so they could work out without masks. The outdoor space made for some cold and icy workouts over the winter, but the cautious approach has resulted in zero COVID-19 transmissions related to team practice and activities, according to Brevick.

“The team has done a ton of work and made a ton of sacrifices to be able to train this year,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Cougar Crew has worked incredibly hard this year, said incoming commodore Ciara McCall, a junior who has been a coxswain on the team for two years, and the close-knit team is ready for the championships this weekend.

“The team is faster than ever before and fitter than ever before,” McCall said. “We’ve put a lot of work into developing our skills off the water, and we’re really looking forward to throwing down and showing what we’ve been working on this year.”