Erik Miller & The Wisconsin LWT Women
"…everyone who is rowing lightweight at Wisconsin is here because she loves the school and the team; everyone is here for the right reasons, and we don't get any 'bare minimum' rowers."
The University of Wisconsin's main campus resides in Madison, one of the nation's premier college towns, 90 minutes west of Milwaukee and 3 hours northwest of Chicago. "Wisco" fields some of the fastest boats in the nation at all levels, including a women's lightweight crew that has taken home the national championship crown 5 times in the past 7 years. Coach Erik Miller has been leading the Badgers since 2006.
The Badger's lightweight crew is vast, fielding 3 varsity eights and as many as 4 or 5 novice eights on a yearly basis. "We get a lot of recruits," says Miller, "but about 1/3 of the team is still made up of walk-ons." In addition to the influx of recruits, Miller loves the composition of his team. "With scholarships much more prevalent in women's rowing now, some see not having scholarships as a huge disadvantage, but the upside is that everyone who is rowing lightweight at Wisconsin is here because she loves the school and the team; everyone is here for the right reasons, and we don't get any 'bare minimum' rowers."
"Rowing in college is a big time commitment, so rowers have to be prepared to balance academics and athletics."
Any sport in which weight is a factor tends to be a touchy subject. "We monitor the women year round, so no one is being unhealthy with regards to weight loss." In fact, with a lightweight rowing maximum of 130 lbs, anyone weighing over 134 lbs at any point in the season will switch to the openweight squad to prevent any quick or unhealthy weight loss. In addition, the sports medicine department at Wisconsin monitors hydration levels and body fat composition weekly. This mindset spills over into recruiting as well, where Miller only recruits "true lightweights."
Because women's lightweight rowing is not an NCAA sanctioned sport in and of itself, most women's lightweight crews function as subsets of the entire women's team as a whole. But a few years back, the IRA regatta, the championship regatta for men and lightweight women's crews, made the decision to exclude club teams from competing, leaving only seven schools consistently putting out women's lightweight crews to compete on a yearly basis (Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Georgetown, Bucknell, and the Badgers). With such a small school set, some consider lightweight rowing to be an endangered species. But Miller is optimistic about the future of the event; "As long as there are people to race, we'll have women's lightweight crew here at Wisconsin."
In his recruiting strategy, Miller admits "I love rowers who show improvement over the years. I've had a lot of luck with rowers who don't necessarily have top-notch erg scores coming in, but have demonstrated the ability to persevere and progress." In addition, with Wisconsin's unofficial status as a "public ivy," Miller adds, "rowing in college is a big time commitment, so rowers have to be prepared to balance academics and athletics."
When asked about giving advice to those in the recruiting process, Miller advises, "you have to choose a school first before you evaluate whether the rowing program is a good fit." Miller adds, "when you visit campuses, spend as much time as you can with members of the team. These are the people you'll spend a good portion of your time with, so clicking with them is usually indicative of a good team fit."
Catch the Wisconsin Lightweight Women this weekend on the Cooper River in Camden, NJ as they try to bring home another Eastern Sprints title.
- Andy Schneider