SCCC rowing team not afraid of tough competition

Once again, the local college with only a handful of bucks dedicated to sports is off to compete nat
The Schenectady County Community College women's rowing team will compete in the 51st annual Head of the Charles on the Charles River in Boston later this month.
The Schenectady County Community College women's rowing team will compete in the 51st annual Head of the Charles on the Charles River in Boston later this month.

Once again, the local college with only a handful of bucks dedicated to sports is off to compete nationally.

The Schenectady County Community College women’s rowing team will be making history when it appears at the 51st annual Head of the Charles on the Charles River in Boston later this month.

When its rowers hit the river Oct. 17, SCCC will become the first two-year women’s program to ever compete at this major event. Only one other two-year rowing team, male or female, ever participated at the Head of the Charles, but it did so on a club basis and raced against high school and junior-level programs, way back in 1970.

“We are very excited about being selected to participate,” SCCC athletic director Dave Gonzalez said. “It is the most prestigious rowing event on the collegiate level.”

The rowing team is the latest SCCC squad to excel. The Royals have a long history of competing against and beating much bigger regional and national programs.

The two-year school has only 75 student-athletes who compete in team or individual events, and the Royals have a tiny overall athletic budget of $227,000. For comparison, Alabama athletics turned a profit of $33 million in 2013-14.

Yet SCCC teams have overachieved for years. The men’s perennial powerhouse bowling team won a national championship against four-year programs two years ago, and the baseball team made a couple of trips to the NJCAA World Series under longtime head coach Tim Andi, who recently retired.

SCCC, one of 30 community colleges in the State University of New York system, has more than 7,000 enrolled students and offers 50 career degrees. But it has only six varsity teams: men’s and women’s bowling, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s crew.

“The reason we have been so successful with so many of our sports is that we have so many outstanding coaches,” Gonzalez said. “A great example is Ray Ross, our bowling coach. He’s been with us for more than 25 years. He’s put in the work, especially when it involves recruiting. Tim Andi was the same way. It’s almost a full-time, part-time position when it comes to all our coaches. That’s the key. They are all good coaches, and they are not going to get paid a lot. They need to be dedicated.”

There are only two full-time coaches or athletic administrators at SCCC, including Gonzalez, who has been with the program for 28 years. Ross is a full-time math professor, but his bowling coach’s duties are extra.

“All of our coaches have jobs elsewhere except for Ray and myself,” Gonzalez said. “They are part-time, but they do the extra effort. They go out and recruit just like everybody else. We are competing against other junior college programs like Hudson Valley Community College, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Adirondack Community College and others. We are all battling for the same kids.”

Since SCCC is a Division III junior college, it can’t give scholarships. Some student-athletes do receive financial help, based on need.

“Our budget is based on the student activity fee,” Gonzalez said. “Our enrollment is down this year, so it’s [the activity fee] stagnant. We always count our pennies.”

SCCC women’s rowing coach Cody Rule noted that athletes and coaches in his sport have to go the extra mile, especially considering scheduling restraints.

“We’ve been on a good run lately here,” Rule said. “It takes continued success to be selected to race at the Charles. We owe our success to not only those on the team now, but to all of our alumni who have helped us get here. We’re honored to represent SCCC at the Charles, and we’re excited to test ourselves against competition both nationally and internationally.”

SCCC was selected to compete at the Head of the Charles because of recent past performances against elite rowers. Last year, SCCC’s women’s varsity 4 finished 11th out of 27 at the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Philadelphia and also placed sixth at the New York State Collegiate Rowing Championships.

SCCC has fielded a women’s crew team since 2007. Last year, SCCC’s Taylor de Moree became the Royals’ first rower to transfer to a Division I program when she moved on to the University of Buffalo. SCCC is one of only two community colleges in the country to offer competitive rowing.

“The sacrifices our rowers make are unbelievable,” Rule said. “They’ve got to get up early in the mornings. One of the problems we have is that we must make sure the coaching schedules line up with the athletes’. So many of them work and take classes or labs. For example, our culinary students cook for the banquets. It’s a balancing act.”

Rule said 90 percent of his team work to help pay the bills.

“We have practices five days a week, and as we approach a big race, we extend that,” Rule said. “We usually practice about 11⁄2 hours a day. Luckily, I have motivated athletes. I encourage them to use their free YMCA membership that they get with their student activity fee. Getting that free YMCA membership is handy. I encourage them, in addition to their practices, to do joint workouts and lift weights at the ‘Y’.”

SCCC’s 11-person roster includes Dakoda Starr, Morgan Winnie, Natalie Pavelock, Juliana Struys, Anastasia Olsen, Emma Boersma, Elicia Bell, Rachel Rockwell, Katelyn Zebrowski, Victoria Moore and Brittany Markowski.

At the Charles, SCCC wants to make an impression.

“Just competing in itself is a great achievement, but that shows past achievement. How we’ve done in the past is why they chose us to compete,” Rule said. “We know that the competition at the Charles will be amazing. There won’t be any weak boats there. I want to be within striking distance of the top-tier crews in the race. I want to be close to the Division I boats and the international clubs. I want to be within site of the best boats.

“I want them to know that this little school is coming, and that they [the larger schools] have to work hard to stay ahead of us. If we make them sweat and make our presence known, it’s a huge win for the college.”

Categories: College Sports

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