Frank Biller & UVA Men's Rowing

By Sparks Editorial Staff | January 22, 2012

Frank Biller, Head Coach of Men's Rowing at the University of Virginia, describes the Thomas Temple Allan Boathouse as a "super-club" on the banks of the Rivanna Reservoir. "The men's program is a club, and the women's program is varsity, but in the boathouse and on the water, everyone works together to win championships. Kevin Sauer [UVa Women's Head Coach] and I have a great relationship, and I believe this helps both programs succeed."

"..Kevin Sauer and I have a great relationship and I believe this creates a strong correlation of success."

Over the past decade, Title IX in collegiate rowing has created situations in which many men's club programs are secondary to women's varsity programs, often rowing out of separate boathouses at separate locations. This, however, is not the case at Virginia. "Both Kevin and I have a strong interest in both programs, and we foster that attitude in the athletes."

Biller arrived at Virginia in 2009, and immediately began creating a culture of success. The 2011 spring season saw Virginia Men's Rowing race successfully at the Dad Vail Regatta and at the ACRA Championships. At the ACRA, the team won gold in the Varsity 8, as well as silver in the JV 8, 1st Novice 8, and 2nd Novice 8. To cap off the great season, Biller led the V8 and V4 to Henley-on-Thames, where the Varsity 8 finished in the top 4 of the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, their best-ever result at the event. The Cavalier men continued the momentum this fall at the Head of the Charles Regatta, placing first in the Men's Collegiate 4+ and second in the Men's Collegiate 8+. "I expect that 2011 will set a high standard for the future of the program" said Biller. " We need to build on last season, and we're working hard to ensure good results."

"Some might row more miles in the single and others might do more cross-training. Every athlete arrives with a different athletic background and there is no 'one size fits all' in rowing.."

More than half of the 70 students who row for Biller had no high school rowing experience. "We use on-campus recruiting and events at the boathouse to make students aware of the program," says Biller. "The facility is exceptional, the culture is fun, and students are excited to add rowing to their collegiate experience." Novices are taught Biller's coaching philosophy, one based on "individual advancement" and on teaching rowing through biomechanics, nutrition, and skill development.

"Some might row more miles in the single and others might do more cross-training. Every athlete arrives with a different athletic background. We do not use a one-size-fits-all approach. Our novice program is led by my assistant, Erich Shuler. He teaches them how to row both port and starboard as well as how to scull. Two weeks on the team, for example, and Erich has everyone rowing in singles."

Developing novices is important to the Virginia Men's program given the lack of support in admissions. On the recruiting front, Biller can write letters of recommendation for top prospective student-athletes, but he admits that a student needs to be exceptionally qualified academically to gain admission. "During the recruiting process, we try to give potential athletes a realistic assessment—honesty is important—of their chances for admission. Our experienced rowers are usually admitted without support, but we help them through the process in any way we can."
So what makes UVa a good place to row? First, Biller and his staff are committed to providing their athletes with nothing less than a world-class rowing experience. "We coaches are all students of the game. We work very hard to give our athletes every possible advantage so that they can succeed at regattas. We row on perfect water nearly all year round." Second, UVa is a big state school with lots of good athletes from many backgrounds. "We believe Charlottesville is the best college town in America, and the University administration has spent well over a billion dollars in the past decade improving the University in every way imaginable. It's a great college experience."

"Our experienced rowers are usually admitted without support but we help them in every way possible through the process."

UVa Men's Rowing has hosted many international crews on the Rivanna. "The water and climate are ideal, and crews like to train here. We have hosted the New Zealand national team, USA Under-23 Women, and a multitude of others."

Virginia Men's Rowing will return to the water in the spring, and will race the SIRA, Dad Vail, and ACRA Championships.

- Glenn Ochal