Kevin Sauer, Head Coach of the 2012 NCAA Champion UVA Cavaliers women’s rowing team took time out of his schedule to talk about recruiting and competing in a top D1 program.
Coach Sauer, besides erg scores, what sort of qualities are you looking for in a recruit?
Well, it sounds like a cliché, but really – character. My philosophy is that if the character is there, you can do a lot of good things. Obviously you have to start with athletic ability, no doubt about it. But there are people who can make up for some athletic deficiencies, whether it’s height or power with character. It makes a difference as far as their work ethic and how they’re able to really put forth the effort day in and day out.
Do you always recruit kids who have come from a rowing background, or do you sometimes recruit good athletes from other sports that you think you can develop into good rowers?
Well the “guarantee” is someone who has the rowing background, but sometimes there are some good kids that come from other sports. Swimming, for example, is a great correlating sport – no doubt about it. They’re used to the hard work, they’re used to grinding it out – they’re used to looking at a black line for a long period of time and they get into rowing and they look around and say, “hey, cool, scenery”. So I’ve had really good luck with some kids that have a strong swimming background.
I coached at Yale for 3 years as well, and there was a guy that was 6’6” and 210 lbs and was a 500 yard freestyler in high school. There’s not a much better combination that that. This was a guy that was willing to work hard. After 3 years of rowing he was a world champion. And the next year he went to the Olympics in ’88.
So the NCAA allows up to 20 womens rowing scholarships in a D1 program. Do you allocate the full 20 at UVA?
Yes, we’re fully funded and have been for about 5 years now. Before that we were not, but the department decided to fully fund all the sports, so we’re fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of that.
So this is all open weight, correct?
Yes, we have lightweight sized rowers, but we don’t have a lightweight team.
The 20 scholarships cover the entire roster of 65-70 women?
Right. Not everyone is a full scholarship. There are a few full scholarships, but it’s a lot percentages.
Are there certain benchmarks based on erg scores, where if you’re hitting this mark you’re in the realm of 100% and if you’re hitting that you might qualify for 50%?
It’s not so much erg scores, as much as what you’ve done while you’re here. I mean there are some kids that come in as a full scholarship because they’re very, very talented and a lot of schools are after them. But there are others who come in on a percentage or nothing at all, and earn their way to get some financial help as they go through their careers. I had 2 kids in the 2009 Varsity 8 that started at zero and ended up at full by their senior year. So again it’s not a specific benchmark because you can have a great erg score and still not be able to move the boat. It’s back to character, being a good teammate and a good boat mover more than a certain erg.
That said, the erg score is very quantitative and easy to assess, and those other important factors are a harder to quantify. The erg does tell you that at least she’s got a lot of power and probably endurance and toughness, so if we can teach her how to row, she’s probably going to be pretty good. But you can have kids who are great rowers, great erg scores but they’re just not good teammates. They just don’t have what it takes, character-wise, to be an asset to the team.
What’s your philosophy about weight in a boat? Is there a benefit to be a lighter rower with a good erg, compared to a heavier rower with a better erg score? Is there a tradeoff?
At some point, there is. You have to consider the fact of power per pound. There are lot of smaller people who create really good scores for their weight, but in the end, you need horsepower. Even if you’re 130 lbs and have a 7:40 erg, that’s pretty good, but a 7:40 erg no matter how much you weigh is not going to create the kind of horsepower that you need to succeed at the Division 1 Varsity 8 level.
There’s room for kids that size in an open weight boat, but they’re usually pretty fast. So you have to balance that.
Sometimes that comes out in a seat race – you switch a rower in a boat and see what difference it makes. Of course you’re trying to control a lot of variables – so it’s not perfect.
How about the Coxswains, are there scholarships available or are they generally walk-ons?
Well, it’s very hard to assess a coxswain, there aren’t any quantitative measures there. But you listen to coaches and listen to tapes, that type of thing and hopefully you come up with some indications that this kids is going to be pretty good in college. There are times when you can give them some aid (financial) but a lot of times, here at UVA it may just be a matter of helping them get into school, which is pretty valuable. And then if we’re able to help them financially as well, that’s pretty attractive.
But we tend to lean more on the side of the rowers, helping them a little bit more than the coxswains. But we have helped some coxswains in the past as well.
You mentioned being able to help an athlete get into school. Obviously UVA is a very academically competitive school. If you have an athlete that you want, but they may be on the border, how much support can you give with admissions?
Yes, absolutely. We have a few slots each year where admissions will allow us to identify those kids that we can support. It’s no different than at any other school. As for the academics they’ll need, it’s really a case by case basis.
There was a girl who was in the nursing school who just graduated that I slotted and helped her get into the school and she ended up number 1 in the nursing school with a 3.95 GPA. She ended up an academic All-American.
How solid are the slots? If you slot an athlete, are they pretty well assured of getting in?
It’s solid. We can get a commitment from admissions and be able to tell them, we’re willing to slot you if you’re willing to commit to us. The only thing that would make it fall through would be the same sort of thing that would get your regular admission rescinded.
Next, Coach Sauer on early commits, time demands and challenges D1 athletes face