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College rowing championships underway at Lanier
Rowing teams from Northwestern State University, front, and Florida State University compete Saturday in the men’s novice L4 event during the 2012 ACRA National Championships. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

It may be a lot of work, but the members of the Lake Lanier Rowing Club are already asking for more.

With the 2012 American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championships underway, LLRC president Cliff Ward was already talking about how exciting it would be next year. The club will be hosting the women’s NCAA rowing championships and, if the ACRA nationals return for a third year, would have a pair of national championships at Lake Lanier in back-to-back weeks.

“It’s a lot of work, but when we get to the end of the event and find out that everything’s gone smoothly, it’s great,” said Ward, who added that the members all volunteer their time, in addition to the local Boys and Girls Club. “We’ve already proposed for them to use the venue again next year. It’s a great fit for these college teams.

“We’d have two huge regattas back-to-back, if ACRA comes back, and that would be a big thing.”

It’s not the Olympics, but the site of the rowing events at the 1996 games is becoming a popular spot for college rowing teams, whether for championships or exhibitions and training.

The ACRA National Championships preliminary races were held Saturday and included a record 62 teams and 251 entrees. The finals of the two-day event start at 8 a.m. Sunday.

ACRA president Gregg Hartsuff, whose University of Michigan rowing team is one of the favorites to compete for the championship in multiple events in the finals today, is glad to be back in Gainesville for another year.

“The coaches have given rave reviews of the venue, the course,” he said. “No complaints, and a lot of positive comments.

“And people like the association with the Olympics. We’re definitely eyeballing coming back.”

ACRA, an association of collegiate club rowing teams, was formed in 2008 after a split with NCAA rowing programs. Most of the teams are members of BCS conferences, including heavyweights Virginia, Michigan and Michigan State, and local teams Georgia and Georgia Tech. Emory University also has a rowing team present at the event.

The boats, or shells, that the teams use range from one-to-eight person, can cost upwards of $35,000 to $50,000 for the largest, and travel along a 2,000-meter course.

Hartsuff said that the Lanier venue is appealing because it meets the standards of the FISA, the international rowing federation, which includes having room for eight lanes, a water depth of three meters and a body of water with a significant current.

“Right now, this is our favorite place,” said Hartsuff, who added that cost, and the ability for teams to easily fly in through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, have added to why Lanier is a good location for the event. A number of the major rowing teams, including Michigan, also come down for a week over spring break to train on Lanier, Ward added.

Previously, the event has been held in Oklahoma City and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Georgia rower Kate Belgum, who is a part of the four-person varsity women’s team, appreciates having the national championships so close.

The Bulldogs practice at Fort Yargo in Winder, but they have been up to the venue at Lanier on occasion, including for the John Hunter Regatta.

“It’s really nice to have it in your own state. It’s nice to sleep in your own bed,” Belgum said.

Georgia Tech rower Randy Dalton, whose team practices on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta, agrees.

“It’s nice, very convenient,” said Dalton, who races in the men’s freshman novice event.

The Yellow Jackets were also up at Lanier earlier in the season for a match against Emory and Grand Valley State, another of the top ACRA teams in the nation.

The goal for both the Georgia and Georgia Tech teams in the nationals was to reach the Grand Finals and put on a show in their home state.

Belgum’s team made a run at a Grand Final spot after falling in their early heat. The Lady Dogs were in the running for a top-three finish most of the race before falling to fifth and a spot in the B-final Sunday.

The Emory women, whom Belgum said were a natural rival of Georgia’s, were the most successful Georgia team Saturday, with the two-person team advancing to the Grand Final with a top finish, and the varsity four-person team moving on with a second-place finish.

Other Georgia teams in the Grand Finals today include the Georgia Tech men’s pair and the Georgia men’s novice light pair.

The Georgia Tech and Emory varsity men’s four-person teams are in the semifinals today after first-place heat finishes.

Hartsuff’s Michigan rowers will be well represented in the Grand Finals, and will have a chance to atone for a close loss last year to Virginia in one of the signature events of the tournament, the men’s 8-man varsity race. Both teams are part of a top-four that includes Notre Dame and Grand Valley State.

“I know he’s excited to have a chance to challenge Virginia again,” Ward said.

The president and the rest of the LLRC members also excited to have the possibility to see this event, which Ward said attracts over 3,000 people, again next year.

“We’ve got great people, a great venue,” he said. “It’s more about the sport than any money we’re making. It’s about sharing this great facility with these kids.”

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