This summer, The Ohio State University women’s rowing team set a huge milestone, becoming the first OSU women’s team in history to win an NCAA championship in any sport.
Among the names etched on that milestone are those of two New Albany High School graduates.
On June 2, the team claimed victory in the NCAA championship at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. The first varsity four and second varsity eight teams each scored first-place finishes, while the first varsity eight took third.
Ashley Bauer, a 2011 New Albany graduate, is part of the first varsity eight team. Amanda Poll, also a 2011 graduate, is coxswain for the second varsity eight.
The Buckeyes are the first Big Ten team to win the NCAA rowing championship.
Both Bauer and Poll got into rowing their junior years of high school, joining Westerville Crew after years as competitive swimmers at the New Albany Aquatics Club. Both were then recruited by OSU.
“One thing I think they do a really good job of at Westerville (Crew) is give the kids a lot of enthusiasm for the sport,” says OSU rowing head coach Andy Teitelbaum.
That enthusiasm and passion for the sport is also a fixture of OSU’s rowing culture, making Bauer and Poll natural fits for the team.
Making the transition from swimming, a highly individualized sport, to rowing, which places a heavy emphasis on teamwork and cohesiveness, took some work. Because OSU takes multiple boats into each match-up, there is some level of competition within the team as well. But the No. 1 priority is the success of the group as a whole.
“Across the board, no matter which team you’re on, you want to see your team succeed at any cost,” Bauer says. “Everyone does whatever it takes for the team, to make the team better as a whole.”
Poll quickly made another transition from rower to coxswain, learning to command attention and keep practices running.
“Being a coxswain is so much about the natural traits of your personality, and I’m super aggressive and competitive,” she says.
Despite their entirely different roles, Bauer and Poll both credit the team for helping them keep in tip-top condition. The NCAA permits up to 20 hours of practice per week, and the Buckeyes take full advantage, practicing twice a day.
Practices may be in the weight room, on rowing machines or out on the Scioto River near the team’s boathouse at Griggs Reservoir. The team’s season will not start up again until spring 2014, but practices are year-round, with running and cross training supplementing the rowing machines in the winter.
“I’m definitely in the best shape of my life,” Bauer says. “There’s no question about that.”
Though Poll’s role on the team is largely non-physical, she is at the front of the boat every time and works hard to keep her weight down accordingly, which means a lot of running and other cardiovascular exercise. That includes participating in the Columbus Half Marathon in October.
“During the year, I run 8 to 10 miles a day,” Poll says.
Both Poll and Bauer describe the bond among teammates as being exceptionally strong. It’s that commitment to not letting the other rowers down – strong every year, but especially strong this year – that helped propel the Buckeyes to the championship, Teitelbaum says.
“The thing that separated this team from most of the other we’ve had was just their level of commitment toward each other,” he says.
Though the 2013 competitive season is over, the women still have a few items on their agenda this year, including a scrimmage against the University of Michigan in October.
Expectations will be high for the Buckeyes going into their 2014 season, but the school’s athletic leadership has been very supportive.
“The day after we got back (from nationals), (Athletic Director) Gene Smith brought most of the athletic department to the boathouse, and they had a presentation of the trophy with Brutus, members of the band and cheerleaders,” Bauer says.
Expectations were already high, though, says Teitelbaum, who has been coach since the rowing program started at OSU in 1995. The team has been in the national top 10 in 13 of the last 14 years.
Bauer describes this year’s victory as “the best feeling of (her) life” and is driven to win so she can have that feeling again.
“The best way I can describe my experience being on the team is ‘blessed’ – I’m just so blessed to be a part of this team and experience things like this,” says Poll.
While most of the championship team will be back for next season, back-to-back victories are no cakewalk, Teitelbaum cautions – especially now that OSU is the team to beat.
“Now we’re the ones with the target on our back,” he says.
Bauer – who is majoring in international studies with a focus on world economy and business – is considering dabbling in coaching after she graduates. Poll is a human development and family sciences major and is hoping to work in children’s fashion when she graduates early in 2014.
Garth Bishop is a contributing editor. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.