The University of San Diego’s rowing program has existed since the 1970s, but it was an observation by Tom Cosgrove during a San Diego Crew Classic medal ceremony that put the sport on the university’s radar.
“I remember at the end of the last race I went and saw the Harvard team, which won the Copley Cup, receive their medals,” said Cosgrove, who at the time was USD’s associate dean of students and director of student activities. “I thought to myself ‘they didn’t look that big or tall so it must be something else. They had a lot of discipline and great technique.’ I thought that even though USD was a small school and had fewer students to draw from, we could do this. That’s when I decided we needed to get something going.”
The 39th San Diego Crew Classic returns to Mission Bay this Saturday and Sunday. When USD’s teams compete, Cosgrove, who retired from USD in June 2010 after 38 years, will relish every moment.
“At this year’s Crew Classic, USD has all kinds of teams competing, including men’s and women’s alumni, younger alumni. We’ve got teams at all levels,” he said.
It’s natural progress for the sport at USD, where the programs have a consistent presence locally and in recent years have moved into new territory.
The women’s program, led by fifth-year coach and USD alumna and former rower Kim Cupini, has enjoyed the most recent success, winning back-to-back West Coast Conference titles in 2010 and 2011 and winning an all-around points title at last year’s WIPA Championships. In a WCC preseason poll released on Thursday, the Toreros are once again considered the favorite.
Veteran men’s coach Brooks Dagman and his program compete despite the WCC not having a men’s division. However, in 2009, USD’s team put together top performances at the Crew Classic and Western Intercollegiate Rowing Championships to earn the program’s first-ever automatic berth into the national championships.
Both coaches have been busy preparing their 2012 squads for the big local weekend. Both the men and women’s rosters demonstrate the continuing appeal of the sport Cosgrove helped start at USD. Top female athletes include Michelle Geesman, Stephanie Jegat and Hannah Patrick. The men’s team is dominated by youth and has quickly gained experience through its fall season.
There’s no better way to demonstrate its long-lasting appeal than seeing what will happen Sunday at the Crew Classic. Sunday’s action features only championship races. While USD’s current teams will vie in those races in the morning, the afternoon belongs to USD’s veteran performers. The Toreros will compete in a pair of competitive alumni division races — women’s alumni at 12:10 p.m., men’s alumni at 2:20 p.m. — and USD will honor Cosgrove (pictured, right) for his program-building and long-term support as it names the shell of a new boat in his honor. This special christening ceremony will take place at noon Sunday behind USD’s Crew Classic tent area.
Cosgrove, who stopped by a team practice earlier this week, was kindly teased by an alumnus, Micheal Gerhart ’88, when observing the multitude of crew teams now representing USD.
“Mike said to me, ‘look at what you’ve created!’” Cosgrove said with a laugh.
The Toreros — current and past — should be formidable in their races on Saturday (preliminaries) and Sunday (finals). Dagman and Cupini have their teams focused for success on what is their home course.
The competitive spirit certainly exists for alumni, too.
The men’s alumni team made a big splash last year with a sentimental milestone fueling its drive to win. The 1986 Toreros team won the Crew Classic’s Cal Cup. Twenty-five years later, that team returned last year seeking to reclaim its glory in an alumni division race, but finished second.
“We lost by just enough last year to keep us hungry for another chance at coming out as victors,” said Gerhart, who will be joined by Jaime Bea ’87, Treak Tasker ’86, Michael Weber ’88, Brett O’Keefe ’86, John Scherzinger ’89, USD Novice Coach David Janiak and Scot Killen, who is training for a U.S. national team spot.
“We should be a very fast and competitive crew,” Gerhart said. “The team has been relentless in its training for this year’s race. Led by Jaime Bea and Michael Weber, these two USD alums have been shepherding our exhaustive training efforts with daily emails, phone calls and words of encouragement.”
The women’s alumni team consists of Michelle Schooler ’10, Lysanne Sebastian ’96, Stella Stehly ’95, Melanie Lucas-Conwell ’11, Christine Holloway ’10, Lindsey Von Kaenel ’07, Andrea Kellogg ’94 and Lisa O’Toole LeMaser ’11. Jennie Page, a current volunteer assistant coach for USD’s men’s team, graduated from USD in December and she will be the coxswain.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Join fellow alumni for the San Diego Crew Classic on Sunday to cheer on the Torero teams and have lunch, too. Click here to register and for more information on this USD Alumni Association event.