Price's training regimen pushes Rutgers rowing to first national rank
When head coach Justin Price took over the Rutgers rowing team in 2017, he inherited the University's largest roster of Division I women athletes. Coming to the east coast from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Price, in one year, molded that group of women into the program’s highest-achieving team ever with program bests at the Big Ten Championships.
Now in his second season at the bow, Price’s team has already set the program record for highest win total and earned its first-ever national ranking, currently No. 13.
“When he first came in, he just looked at what he was working with, what this team was. From there he took that information and was able to kind of cater a program for us,” said junior Merve Pekdemir.
At this past weekend’s Big Ten double dual in Columbus, Ohio, Price’s personalized touch on the team manifested in five wins over conference foes Michigan State and No. 5 Michigan. These wins will help push the Knights into the NCAA tournament picture as the season continues.
Rutgers had a chance to sweep the Varsity 8 event, but finished 0.3 seconds behind the Wolverines in the closest race of the day, and one that senior Sarah Johanek hopes to even out if the two teams are to meet again in the Big Ten Championships.
“I feel like that race was the epitome of what rowing’s about. We were stroke for stroke, bow ball against bow ball … and at the end of the race neither of us knew who won,” Johanek said. “I’m super excited race them again at Big Tens because they will not be getting us by 0.3 seconds then.”
The team’s path to avenging that loss in the postseason will follow the same path that Price has used to get them to their historically high water marks this season: a personalized and rigorous training routine that targets each necessary facet of rowing performance.
“Our consistency in training is by far the most important part of what has allowed us to have success,” Price said. “It comes down to building our fitness and building our endurance … we never come in and try to hit a home run it’s just about being consistent every day.”
A large portion of rowers on the roster did not do the sport prior to college and were introduced to it at the University. This circumstance makes the Knights unique in that it's a Division I Big Ten program comprised of athletes that made the roster without experience in the sport.
This also makes the training program that much more central to the performance of the team, as fitness, endurance and “grit,” according to Johanek, are the qualities that can compensate for a lack of experience in the sport.
The training regime is comprised of three different routines, only one of which takes place on water. Much of what has gone into achieving the national ranking during and prior to the season has been what the team practices in the weight room.
“We have three main types of workouts … now that we’re in season every morning, we’re out at the boat house doing water workouts. Mondays and Wednesdays we’ll be at the Hale (Center) lifting and then Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons we’ll be at (the Rutgers Athletic Center) doing erg workouts. Friday’s either just water or erg,” Pekdemir said.
Rutgers will lean on the results of that workout routine as it prepares for another big meet closer to home than their trip to Ohio. Price will be taking his team right down route one next weekend for a three-team meet in Princeton. The Knights will be taking on conference rival No. 11 Wisconsin, in-state rival No. 7 Princeton and another Ivy League foe in Columbia.
Wins over the Badgers will be the highest priority for Rutgers, as those races will play heavily into the team’s qualification for NCAAs. But victories over the Tigers can cement Price’s rapidly-evolving program as the premier program in the state for rowing, despite Princeton’s reputation and resources.
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