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The Daily Tar Heel

Spring Sports - Rowing Seniors Come Full Circle in 2001

The eight-meter shell's speed increases with the pull of both the starboard and portside. The shell cuts through the water with the machine-like efficiency of the stroke of the team.

Yet people outside the rowing community might not know or understand one of the most competitive women's sports at North Carolina.

People probably also do not know the outlook for this spring's team of rowers. UNC coach Joel Furtek said the team is "rowing better than we ever have been."

Furtek leads the North Carolina rowing team in his fourth year at the helm. His leadership is complimented by the team's nine seniors who have been with the rowing program since its inception.

"We've come full circle, and they know the whole process," Furtek said. "They remember when we didn't have anything. Their first day of rowing was our first day as a program essentially."

Robin Yamakawa, Laura Fogt, Erin Neppel and Dana Peirce exemplify the senior leadership that makes this boat run.

Yamakawa will lead the varsity eight in her third year as coxswain.The coxswain sits at the back of the shell, and she is virtually the point guard of the team.

"She's reading the flow of the game," said Furtek. "She knows who's hot, who's up, who's where, who's working too hard and knows when to make the move."

Peirce was a member of the U.S. Rowing Junior National team in 1996 and 1997. She picked up an NCAA bronze medal as part of the Tar Heels' four-meter shell in 1998.

Neppel has also trained with the junior national team, and both she and Peirce will be four-year letter winners at the end of the season.

"We have a lot of good expectations this year," Neppel said. "We have a lot of very good varsity rowers, and the novice members coming up are good, too."

Laura Fogt, whom Furtek calls the team leader, will be in her third season with the varsity. In a program where the coach does not elect captains, the honor of being elected team leader comes from the other rowers.

The rowing team races on University Lake several miles from campus in Carrboro. The team races a four-meter shell and the varsity eight-meter shell.

UNC, ranked in the top 25, will face plenty of competition, traveling and speed this season. The Tar Heels should benefit from being in the water early in the year compared to some of the northern rowing teams.

"We're very lucky to be in the south," Yamakawa said. "We've been in the water three weeks already, and the northern teams are still worried about ice."

The Tar Heels won't get to benefit from that advantage their first race -- they face archrival Duke to open their spring on March 3. The Tar Heels then travel to Miami, Virginia, San Diego and Tennessee during the course of the season.

"We have a great schedule this year since we get to start racing early," Yamakawa said. "It creates an initial willpower, gives us some experience and boosts confidence. It also allows us to evaluate where we are at."

The racing during the season all leads to the ACC Championships in late April and potentially the NCAA Championships.

"The ACC Championship is very tight. It's an hour of racing, and we all go home," Furtek said. "You better be on your game, and you better bring it."

The fury of the start and finish can captivate the rowers, coaches and spectators, but the beauty and grace throughout the entire race are to be marvelled. The symphony of motion, and the unification of the individual rowing in stride with the whole brings new meaning to teamwork.

"The better we get at our skills, the more beautiful rowing becomes," said Neppel.

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This image of the boat slicing through the water can only be matched by the excitement of a sport where winners and losers are separated by mere seconds.

Said Furtek, "Ultimately, it just comes down to who's worked hard enough and who has the gifts to succeed."