UNC has a varsity rowing program on the women’s side, consisting primarily of recruited athletes that have some rowing experience coming out of high school. But due to scholarship limitations, the program heavily relies on walk-ons to fill out its boats and provide support and reinforcements for the varsity team.
And interest in the novice team, which consists of all first-year rowers, exploded this season, with 180 girls attending the preliminary interest meeting, and 80 of those girls were still interested by the time the rigorous tryout process was completed.
Coach Anthony Brock said he was taken aback by the interest, and was even forced to make significant cuts to his team.
“I had sixty novices this fall, which is ungodly high,” Brock said. “Years past I’d kept maybe thirty. So this year I kept sixty, just to keep our numbers up and give the program the depth that we need.”
The team has more than enough to fill four 8-person boats, which Brock said is a significantly higher number than most novice programs in the country, and he said he finds those athletes beginning with a simple letter to any and all high school heroes.
“Once a student is admitted to Carolina, we send out a letter that says, ‘Congratulations, you’re coming to Carolina. Maybe you can’t the play the sport you did in high school, you should try rowing.'”
And many of them do try it, and find they have a knack for the sport, even after attempting it for just the first time. Many of these athletes will one day feature on one of the varsity boats, but for now, they are just trying to adjust to the rigors of college life and the prospect of spending hours on end on a lake.
“Several of our athletes could probably step up to the varsity team right now if we needed them to,” Brock said. “But for now, they’re focusing on their GPA’s, figuring out how to live in a dorm, and finding out if this sport really is for them.”