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Ian Ferguson

Western women’s rowing boasts a triumphant and decorated history with a long list of accolades, championships and achievements. The culmination of the 2017 and 2018 seasons only added to that list. The team placed second at the NCAA national championships and brought home a dominant win in the varsity-4 event.

Michaela Bonenberger, a thirdyear rower on the team, was one of the four rowers that crossed the finish line with a win at nationals. For the crew, it marked the final moment of a hard-fought nine month season.

“We did it, we got what we aimed to do,” Bonenberger said, at a loss for words trying to describe the emotions tied to the season’s finale. 

Western women's rowing poses for a team picture at the 2017 NCAA Division II National Championships. // Photo courtesy of Western Athletics and Jeff Evans

Bonenberger’s crew, consisting of three other rowers and a coxswain, had rowed just shy of every day of practice with each other for all of spring quarter 2018. In that time they had grown a tight bond.

The five of them had a tradition of eating pad thai together before every race. It started out as a joke, Bonenberger said, but as the season progressed and they continued to win races, the squad got serious about their ritual.

John Fuchs is entering his 21st year as the women's rowing head coach and said good chemistry has always been a key to the team's success.

Rowing is a physically demanding sport, Fuchs said, and the rowers need to show perseverance if the team is to succeed. For this reason, he encourages the team to have fun in the process of working hard. Fuchs said the rest takes care of itself.

Hannah Bivans is a fourth-year rower and a prominent leader on the team. Bivans competed at nationals in the varsity-8 event with seven other Western rowers and a coxswain. The crew placed fourth in the competition, only a tenth of a second behind the third place team.

In the fall of 2017, when their road to nationals had begun, Bivans said the team made sure to keep their focus on what was in front of them rather than on the horizon. The team had gotten off to a rocky start, she said, as they lost a lot of rowers over the summer, but Bivans said the team kept their focus on working hard in those early stages.

With fall marking a new year for the Vikings, it’s beginnings are looking much like last year’s. Fuchs said the team lost eight seniors over the summer and this fall the number of first year rowers out number the returners. Regardless, he said that he isn’t worried. Fuchs said this is actually a common occurrence with the start of every year and the team will move forward the same as always; training hard and having fun. Throughout the fall and winter, the Vikings will be putting in their time on the water and in the gym to build the fitness they need to succeed in spring. Right now the team focus is on creating bonds with each other that will stand the test of the grueling months to come. “Put in the work, put your head down, keep doing it, and we’ll get there,” Bonenberger said.  
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