Posted May 1, 2012

Women's rowing takes off under new coach

One of the best student-athletes in Temple history now leads the university’s women’s rowing team, bringing a new energy and edge to the 25 year-old program. Since Olympic gold medalist Jason Read’s arrival as head coach last August, the team has more than doubled in size and will bring in its largest recruiting class this fall.

As a member of Temple men’s rowing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Read led the Varsity 8 from the stroke seat to four Murphy Cup, Big East and Dad Vail Varsity 8 championships — the only rower in Dad Vail history to accomplish such a feat. A member of 13 U.S. national teams since 1995, Read took home the gold medal in the men’s 8 at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, setting a record that still stands. He returned to the Olympics in 2008 and is right now training for a spot on the 2012 men’s rowing Olympic team.

“It’s an honor to return to Temple and to work with such promising students,” said Read. “Plus, I get to work underneath two of my heroes, athletic director Bill Bradshaw and men’s rowing coach Dr. Gavin White. If someone wants to call it work, OK, but this is a dream job.”

Read’s weekdays start at 6 a.m. on the Schuylkill River in the shadow of the Strawberry Mansion bridge, where he meets his team for a one-and-a-half to two-hour practice on the water — no matter what the weather. Only ice or flooding keeps them off the river.

On most days, there’s also an afternoon practice, sometimes back on the river but usually back at Main Campus, either weight training or using the stationary rowing machines. Read and his team like to climb the 15 stories in Wachman Hall for an intense workout — sometimes taking two steps at a time. For his own training, Read puts in about 12 sessions a week on both water and land to prepare for the London Olympic trials taking place this June in Princeton.

On a recent morning, Read and volunteer assistant coach Danielle Ponzio motored alongside the women rowers in a pontoon, taking turns at the megaphone offering words of guidance and encouragement.

“Squeeze the glutes. Point the toes.”

“Watch your blade. Make it super horizontal, one inch above the water and then catch.”

“Good, Vicki! Committing to a long finish. Making it natural, making it automatic.”

“I want to see a little more impulse. Stepping through…accelerating the handle to the finish.”

For both the coaches and students athletes, it’s been a year of great transition.

“They’ve learned what it means to work hard, with more of a purpose and a clear regimen,” said Ponzio.

“We’ve changed everything that we believe will get us going in the right direction — new boats, new coaching staff, more walk-ons, and better health and fitness for the rowers.” said Read. “Every one of these athletes comes down here each morning driven with a passion that they’ve never had before, and not just for rowing or sport, but for academics, too.”

The women rowers have indeed improved their standing in the classroom.

“We’re trying to develop the whole person. It’s part of an entire transformation,” said Read.

For junior fine arts photography major Claudia Loeber, the transition has been challenging but rewarding.

“This year, it took some getting used to a very different routine, but it’s been really beneficial,” said Loeber. “I feel like I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in, and everyone’s been working very hard.”

Taylor Wasserleben, a senior and captain, agrees. “A lot of things are different with our new coach and it’s a good different,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy on this team and I wish I were a freshman to repeat everything because I think the program is going to take off significantly in the next couple years.”

With Read at the helm, there’s no doubt about the bright future for women’s rowing.

“Temple’s a great school and it’s undergoing a renaissance,” said Read. “To be back on campus is so invigorating. I’m super-motivated to do what I can to help make Temple a better place.”