by Ben Jansen
Rowing is a sport that is on the rise at colleges across the country, as you can easily join without prior experience. The University of Tampa has two rowing teams; a club team and an NCAA varsity team, both led by head coach, Bill Dunlap.
“The great thing about the rowing team here is you don’t need to have rowed before to join,” said Dunlap. “Obviously you have to be on the club team before going up to varsity, but it doesn’t take long to learn, most of the hard work comes after you understand the basics.”
If you have experience from rowing in high school, you can skip the club team and go straight to varsity.
Olivia Nicopulous, a sophomore on the UT team, said “I grew up as a competitive athlete, so in college I had planned to not do anything competitive to give myself some free time. Eventually I ended up getting bored and realized I needed to get involved in something“I went to the boathouse and talked to coach and felt really excited about joining the team at UT,” said Nicopulous“I started in the spring, so I joined in racing season, which was intense, but it was awesome because I took it upon myself to join the team rather than being recruited. The coach and the people on the team are amazing and I wouldn’t change it one bit.”
Dunlap is the definition of talking the talk and walking the walk. He is a world champion in his own right, having won five World Championship gold medals and he established the UT rowing team as an NCAA team rather than a club.
Dunlap claims, “I don’t think you need my type of experience to be successful as a rowing coach, but it certainly helps. If we’re two minutes in to an eight minute race, I know just how draining it is, I know when to push my rowers harder or when to let them go on their own.”
Anyone who has ever watched or participated in rowing knows that it is critical for everyone on the team to be in sync when competing. With a club team and a varsity team, both consisting of dozens of athletes, it might be difficult for everyone to feel like a united group. The UT team has four seniors on the varsity roster, and Dunlap relies on them to make the team a unit.
When asked if he does any team building activities or tasks Dunlap said, “Not really. I mostly rely on the team to do that. A lot of times they’ll wear their rowing team gear and go to a soccer game or a volleyball game. But I don’t make any of that mandatory,” said Dunlap“If I did it might feel like another piece of work from coach, but when its led by the players it feels a lot more natural.”
However, the UT team faces bigger problems than just team bonding. Because of a lack of scholarship money, everyone on the team is a walk-on, rather than being recruited, putting the Spartans at a relative disadvantage. Most teams in the state of Florida have scholarship money available and can recruit people on their team.
“When it comes down to it we have to coach around the fact that some schools have scholarships when we don’t. We don’t really participate in long boat (8-man races), because we know we aren’t really going to have much success there,” said Dunlap. “We tend to stick with lightweight competitions which is either two or four in a boat, that’s really where we compete and win.”
Dunlap also gave credit to athletic director, Larry Marfise, for his understanding with how the program is run. He realizes that UT can’t compete against teams that recruit, and he allows Dunlap to schedule accordingly.
If you have experience rowing, or any interest in joining the team, the club team meets weekly.
Ben Jansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org