Yaz Farooq & Stanford Women's Rowing

By Sparks Editorial Staff | September 23, 2012

"[At Stanford]", Women's Head Coach Yaz Farooq explains, "the standard of excellence in both academics and athletics attracts the best of the best. One in seven students at Stanford is a varsity student athlete. It's a high achieving peer group unlike any other university in the world. Student-athletes here master balancing academics and athletics and are immensely successful in both arenas." She is not just talking about her 2009 NCAA D1 National Champion team. At a university with BCS-regular football, perennial NCAA tournament men's and women's basketball, and an Olympic presence such that were it a country it would have ranked 11th overall for medals in Beijing and 7th overall for gold medals in London (including the US Women's Eight's consecutive golds with Stanford standout Elle Logan '11), winning national championships doesn't make a team special, it makes it ordinary. With an athletic department comprising 36 varsity teams, Stanford is home to 119 National Championships (more than any other university), 18 consecutive Director's Cup titles given to the best overall D1 NCAA athletic department (more than any other university), and perhaps most impressively, has won at least one national championship every year for the last 36 years (again, more than any other university).

"[We're actually] the smallest NCAA DI team in each NCAA top 20," 1st Assistant Coach Nate Rooks explains, and points to the 2009 NCAA where every single member of the team (minus the novices) travelled to the competition.

But what makes the Stanford Women's Rowing team typical on the Farm makes it unique among its national competitors. "[We're actually] the smallest NCAA DI team in each NCAA top 20," 1st Assistant Coach Nate Rooks explains, and points to the 2009 NCAA where every single member of the team (minus the novices) travelled to the competition. They didn't leave anybody at home, because they needed every single athlete to fill the seats. Rooks believes the smaller team engenders a culture of accountability. "[It's] a group that knows how to get more out of less, not be constrained by external limits, or be intimidated by external factors," he says. If pressed, the Stanford Alum (class of '07), 3-time IRA medalist and 2-time U23 rower might tell you it doesn't hurt to have a world class boathouse, Empachers as far as the eye can see, or beautiful sunny Northern California weather.

"Student-athletes here master balancing academics and athletics and are immensely successful in both arenas."

Since taking the helm in 2007, Head Coach Farooq has overseen Stanford's recent rise the ranks of D1 powerhouse rowing programs. She points to her 10 years in the national team system, a world championship gold medal and two Olympics as a coxswain, and 4 more as a TV analyst in describing her coaching style. "I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches in the world and to currently study the top coaches and programs at the elite level. Our Stanford training program implements knowledge from this experience and prepares our student-athletes for that elite level. We pride ourselves on being cutting edge. It's also how we do more with less, and why we are able to compete year in and out with our small, but tight-knit family."

"The standard of excellence in both academics and athletics attracts the best of the best."

Never has this reality been more painfully apparent then this last year's NCAAs. After capturing the 2009 overall team title and setting an NCAA course record on Cooper River in the V1, the team steamrolled its way to a 4th place finish in 2010, and in 2011, Stanford narrowly missed winning a second national championship in three years, losing in a photo finish in the varsity eights race by a mere five one-hundredths of a second to Brown. The Cardinal tied Brown for the overall points championship but was awarded a silver due to its relative finish in the V1 event. But in 2012, the Cardinal finished 9th overall, a finish that many programs would consider an achievement but for this team is a dip in performance. "The NCAA is an extremely high level of competition, and everything has to come together perfectly, and we had some adversity," Rooks reflects, referencing a stomach virus which affected 7 members of the team prior to and during semis and finals and injuries which plagued the small squad throughout the year.
As to plans for the coming season, Stanford will be looking at a fuller squad with key team leaders returning from Olympic team training and selection and a robust incoming freshman group. Stanford resumes competition this weekend at the Head of the Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

- Donny Simkin