Dave O'Neil & Texas Women's Rowing

By Helen Tompkins | October 11, 2014

AUSTIN - Many in the rowing world have long recognized the potential of the University of Texas Women. This season Dave O'Neill took the reins from Carie Graves, who launched UT rowing in 1998 and retired this summer. O'Neill, the former face of Cal, led the Golden Bears to two NCAA team titles and 12 top-four finishes over 16 years.

According to USA Today, the University of Texas makes and spends more on varsity sports than any other university. With only 20 sports, and Title IX balancing the football budget, resources are available for women's rowing. When other crews travel to Big 12s via bus to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Texas is able to charter a plane. "I've never experienced such a healthy budget," says O'Neill. In addition, the team just ordered several new Pocock shells and 20 new Crocker oars.

Not only does Texas have the financial resources, they also have the athletes. The level of high school sports is higher across the board in Texas and many Texas high school girls are participating in track, volleyball, and other sports. Flush with athletes on campus, UT often sees walk-on classes with 150 women. O'Neill recognizes this untapped resource pool and notes the importance of recruiting moving forward.

"Recruiting is going to be important," says O'Neill. "Not only of experienced rowers, but of Texas athletes."

UT is a big state school, breathing football and opportunity. The Austin vibe is one-of-a-kind, mixing the Texas Spirit with liberalism, art, music, love for the outdoors, and fitness. O'Neill has been there one month and commented, "I have never seen so many active, fit people with cool tattoos."

Austin has a community feel, supporting small businesses and local artists, while being a large city and the capital of Texas.

The boathouse is two and a half miles from campus and right in the center of Austin. Town Lake is bordered by a ten mile fitness path with plenty of green space and occasional foot bridges. At the west end of Town Lake there is an island that serves as a dog park. Dogs playing in the water at the water break turn point provides a welcome distraction for the athletes.

O'Neill believes in the potential of UT rowing and is excited to teach the athletes what they are capable of. There is a cultural shift of the rowers towards understanding their potential and raising their understanding of good rowing and being a good student-athlete. O'Neill got rid of the old team PR score board in order to set new standards of what is good. "A 7 minute erg is good, a 6:50 is really good, and a 6:40 is great."

O'Neill is putting national expectations in the minds of the athletes. Early in the season, O'Neill had a meeting with a 5'8'' athlete. He told her there will be at least one other 5'8'' athlete sitting in each first eight at the NCAA Grand Final, and those 5'8'' girls are pulling a 7:05 2k erg. If the athlete knows what someone her size is capable of, and what the nationally competitive standards are, she is better able to adjust her goals to achieve them. By telling the athletes what others are achieving, O'Neill is shifting the athlete's understanding of what they are capable of. Raising the bar of what the athletes think is possible empowers them to achieve high standards.

This season O’Neill believes "the team can take a big step forward as it looks to become competitive on the national level." In time, O'Neill believes Texas will be one of the top programs in the country.