Coming to Lake Lanier is a big deal for the rowing team from Vanderbilt University.
One of 79 teams competing in Hall County this weekend, the Commodores are seeking a national championship in the American Collegiate Rowing Association after finishing second in the women’s standings last year. The two-day event starts today at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
“It’s the highlight of the season. We train to compete for this event,” Vanderbilt junior Noam Kosofsky said. “It is what we look forward to the most and (are) most excited about.”
University of Michigan coach Greg Hartsuff thinks this is as big as it gets for his burgeoning program that has claimed 10 consecutive titles for points in the men’s competition, along with 33 event titles in that time.
According to the Wolverines coach, there will be approximately 1,700 athletes competing over the next two days in Gainesville, a direct result of the growing popularity of the season-ending championship offerings to athletes across the country. To provide perspective, Hartsuff said just 747 athletes and 36 teams took part in the inaugural ACRA championship in 2008.
“More teams are committing to culminating their seasons at ACRA,” said Hartsuff. “And those teams are bringing more student-athletes.”
Even 22 years after the Summer Games came to Hall County, athletes recognize the prestige of competing where the world’s best did in 1996.
“It was exiting when I saw the lake for the first time,” Vanderbilt senior Matt Gu said. “I was like, ‘This is the 1996 Olympic venue,’ which is crazy.
“(The) Lake Lanier Rowing Club has a nice set-up (here).”
Vanderbilit freshman Saili Lowry got a good idea how big the ACRA championship was to coach Jon Miller early in the season. The Commodores’ coach signed off on every email with a weekly countdown to when they’d be coming to compete for the title on Lake Lanier.
“At the beginning of the season, he let us know that we have 40 weeks, then 38 and 20 ... and now its ACRA championship week, which is really exciting,” Lowry said.
The Vanderbilt women have focused on specified training as they look to get over the hump to win the championship in 2018. One of the programs the Commodores are eager to face is Wichita State, which handed them an early-season loss.
“We have been working super hard and focusing,” Vanderbilt freshman Emma Baker said. “We just want to get those things right and row our hearts out.”