When former Juneau-Douglas High School students Andy Dietrick and Rachael Kirchhoff arrived at college two years ago, neither of them had ever rowed before.
Now, as sophomores, Dietrick and Kirchhoff are rowing for nationally ranked college teams -- Dietrick for 18th-ranked Oregon State University and Kirchhoff for 20th-ranked Syracuse University.
Dietrick rowed in the six seat (sixth rower from the bow) for OSU's varsity eight, until a recent flare-up of a back injury dropped him into the seven seat in the junior varsity boat while he recuperates. Kirchhoff has rowed in the six seat for Syracuse's varsity eight all season.
Dietrick, who hopes to move back to the varsity boat in time for nationals later this month, hadn't given crew much of a passing thought until he arrived in Corvallis for freshman orientation. The school's novice coach sold Dietrick on taking a one-credit introduction to crew. Dietrick was hooked. Oregon State's rowing program even kept Dietrick from transferring to the University of Alaska Fairbanks last year.
``I didn't do any sports, not really seriously, when I was in high school,'' said Dietrick, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 215 pounds. ``My freshman and sophomore years I was on the soccer teams, but I didn't really play that much. I was more into mountain biking, fishing and volleyball, and I got into rafting.''
Kirchhoff hadn't been in a racing shell (boat) either, but she actually decided to go out for the Syracuse women's rowing team before she arrived at college. Kirchhoff, who stands 6-foot-1, had a more varied athletic background and competed in cross-country running, basketball and track, plus she won four gold ulus in the 1996 Arctic Winter Games snowshoe competition.
``My dad (Matt Kirchhoff) rowed at Syracuse, so there was a little family tradition there,'' said Rachael Kirchhoff, who received a partial athletic scholarship the past two years (Oregon State doesn't give scholarships to its men's team). ``I figure I'm suited to it because I'm so tall. A lot of people switch over to crew when they get to college. I just wanted to do something different.''
Jumping into a competitive racing shell was a much different experience than Dietrick envisioned. Many nonrowers look at a crew race and think the rowers are using their arms and back to do most of the work, but that isn't the case.
Each seat in a racing shell is built so that the rower's feet are tied into the bottom. The racing seat itself is built into a metal slider, so the rower ends up using his or her legs for most of the power.
``I was a little bit surprised,'' Dietrick said. ``I'd used rowing machines, but I didn't know how much you used the legs.''
``I knew what I was getting into, and you definitely use the whole body,'' Kirchhoff said. ``We run a lot of steps at the Carrier Dome during the winter to build up our legs.''
Dietrick also learned first-hand there are some dangers to rowing. For example, if the oar isn't feathered properly (so the blade is flat) on the recovery stroke the blade can catch the water. This causes the handle of the oar to slam back into the rower's midsection, sometimes so hard it will literally fling the rower right out of the boat. ``Catching a crab,'' as it's called, can also bring an eight to a complete halt, as it did a few weeks ago when Dietrick caught a crab in a race. It can also happen if the rowers aren't working together.
``The name of the game is matching, it's all about matching,'' Dietrick said. ``(In the seven seat) I've got to pay extra attention. The five seat's got another oar in front of him, but I don't have a blade to match, except for one in my peripheral vision.''
Dietrick said he plans to use the next two years to see how far he can go in rowing, even if it means rowing all year round. Both Dietrick and Kirchhoff said their varsity boats are very young, so they hope to see how their teams climb in the polls as they get older.
``We're getting more and more competitive,'' Kirchhoff said. ``I definitely think over the next two years we'll keep on improving.''
That means trying to find time in the water during the summer. Kirchhoff's father recently built a double scull rowing boat (with two pairs of oars instead of eight single sweep oars), and Dietrick said he planned to call Kirchhoff to see about doing some training this summer on the Gastineau Channel.
Dietrick said he'd love to see a rowing club start in Juneau, although he isn't sure how many rowers there are in town. Right now only one fledgling rowing program exists in Alaska, a recreational group called the Kenai Cruisers that meets on Summit Lake north of Seward. But already the state is starting to develop a rowing tradition.
Kris Thorsness, who attended West Anchorage High School, was Alaska's first resident to win an Olympic gold medal when she competed in the 1984 Olympics (and was an alternate for the 1988 team) for the U.S. women's eight with coxswain crew. Diana Olsen, who also attended West, went to the 1992 Olympics in the women's eight with coxswain. And former Juneau resident Ed Grose, who attended Oregon State, narrowly missed a spot on the 1996 Olympic men's lightweight four crew.
There are other Juneau residents rowing at the collegiate level, like Dartmouth freshman Katy Rue, who rows in one of her school's freshman eight boats. Carrie Huttenlocher, a college freshman who transferred from Juneau to Mercer Island High School in Washington, started the year rowing at the University of Virginia but has since been released from her scholarship so she can transfer to the University of Washington.
Track and field
Western State College junior Jim Shine (Juneau-Douglas) took 41st place May 5 in a 5,000 meters event at the Stanford Invitational, posting a time of 14 minutes, 13.90 seconds for his top time of the year in the event and a berth in the NCAA Division II national championships May 25-27. The field was loaded with NCAA Division I, club and national-team caliber runners and Shine's time was good enough to take over the second spot in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference standings entering the RMAC championships May 7-9 at Western State (in Gunnison, Colo.). Shine, a two-time all-American in cross-country running and indoor track this year, didn't compete in that event, though, at the RMAC meet. Instead he took sixth place Tuesday in the 1,500 meters with a time of 4:07.43. Shine's time of 28:53.94 ranks second nationally in NCAA Division II, trailing only teammate Michael Aish's 28:09 posted Friday at the Stanford meet.
Adams State College senior (junior in track) Carl Blackhurst (Haines) took fourth place Tuesday in the RMAC championships, posting a time of 15:46.78 in the 5,000 meters. Blackhurst, a five-time all-American in track and cross-country running who has been hampered by ankle problems this season, has the top 3,000-meter steeplechase time in the RMAC rankings at 9:08.52, and last year he took third place in the event at the NCAA Division II national championships.
Adams State College junior Danny Pardee (Haines) took fourth place Tuesday in the RMAC championships long jump event, jumping 23-feet-0 for a season best. Pardee, who had the RMAC's sixth-best javelin throw of 177-9 entering the RMAC meet, scratched in Tuesday's finals.
Western Oregon University sophomore sprinter Kara Cozby (Gustavus) took fifth place Saturday in the Pacific West Conference Championships, posting a time of 1:04.17 in the 400 meters at the meet at WOU in Monmouth, Ore.
Western Washington University freshman distance runner Shawn Miller (JuneauDouglas) took fourth place in the 10,000 meters Saturday in the Pacific West Conference Championships, posting a time of 33:31.39 in the meet at Western Oregon University.
Pacific Lutheran University freshman Caryn Flint (Petersburg) took eighth place in the hammer throw at the Northwest Conference track and field championships Saturday, posting a throw of 35.54 meters (116-feet-7) in the meet at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.
Willamette University junior twin sisters Tansy and Marika Middag (both Ketchikan) had mixed results in the Northwest Conference track and field championships Saturday. Marika Middag took fourth place in the javelin with a toss of 37.66 meters (123-7), but Tansy Middag was disqualified in the 400-meter low hurdles.
Linfield College freshman Vince Rinehart (Juneau-Douglas) is a distance runner for the Wildcats, but he had no results in the Northwest Conference meet.
Two former Juneau-Douglas players - freshman second baseman-right fielder Kara Lindley and junior first baseman Heidi Brown - are both playing for the Oregon Institute of Technology, which has a 24-21 record. Brown, who missed much of the season because of an injury, recently returned to action and is .429 in 10 games (out of 45 total) with six hits in 14 at bats, a double and four RBIs. Lindley has played in 34 games, starting 29, but is hitting .145 with 10 hits in 69 at bats, one double, two RBIs and 10 runs scored.
Grinnell College junior pitcher-first baseman Joel Cladouhos (Juneau-Douglas) was named the Midwest Conference-South Division baseball player of the week for May 1. Cladouhos led the Pioneers to three victories in four MWC games at Illinois College that week. He threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout against the Blueboys in an 8-0 Grinnell victory, with four strikeouts and no walks. Then, in the second game of the double-header, Cladouhos hit a grand slam homer to lead Grinnell to an 8-5 victory. For the week, Cladouhos went 5-for-10 from the plate with four runs scored, six RBIs and a stolen base as Grinnell improved its record to 18-11 overall and 9-3 in the MWC. Grinnell, which won the MWC-South regular-season title, hosts the four-team MWC league championship this weekend and the winner of that tournament qualifies for the NCAA Division III national championships.
Iowa State University junior third baseman Rob Conway (Juneau-Douglas) continues to lead the Cyclones in several hitting categories this season, despite missing a couple of games with a minor knee injury. Conway, who won the Big 12 player of the week award in the first week of the season, is hitting .305 with 58 hits in 189 at bats, 13 doubles, one triple, eight homers, 30 runs scored, 51 RBIs, .509 slugging percentage, 12 walks and 11 times hit by a pitch. Conway leads the team in homers, RBIs, slugging, hit by pitch and assists (fielding). Conway, who played for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots of the Alaska League last summer, plans to play summer league baseball in North Carolina this season.
Long Beach State freshman left-handed pitcher Chad Bentz (Juneau-Douglas) missed a chance to pick up his first victory of the season May 3, after he pitched the first five innings against San Diego and left with a 7-2 lead only to have the 49er bullpen blow the advantage for him. Bentz left the game with an 0-1 record and a 6.38 ERA in three starts and a handful of relief appearances. Bentz didn't fare so well Tuesday night, as he took the loss against UCLA to fall to 0-2. Bentz gave up three runs in the first inning, another in the second and was pulled in the third inning as Long Beach State gave up another four runs en route to a 17-6 loss.
Pepperdine University redshirt freshman catcher Jamin Soderstrom (Ketchikan resident, played senior year at Arcadia High in Phoenix, Ariz.) is a member of the Waves baseball team. Soderstrom, who is a walk-on, is one of nine freshmen on the Waves this year. Unfortunately, Soderstrom backs up an all-American who is also one of the top catching prospects in the nation so he's only appeared in two games this season without any at bats.
Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) senior pitcher Josh Bentz (JuneauDouglas) has a 2-3 record with a 4.18 ERA and one save this season, with 25 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched. Bentz pitched three scoreless innings May 2 to earn his save, and on May 6 he pitched one inning and allowed one run.
Mendocino Community College (Ukiah, Calif.) sophomore pitcher Toby Staveland and freshman third baseman Wade Walter (both Juneau-Douglas) are seeing significant playing time for the 18-14 Eagles. Staveland, who was Mendocino's freshman of the year last season, has a 2-3 record with a 3.86 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched. Walter is hitting .247 with 23 hits in 85 at bats, five doubles, 21 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Mendocino is where current Iowa State third baseman Rob Conway of Juneau played his first two years of college baseball.
Golden West College (Huntington Beach, Calif.) freshman sprinter Derek Gibb (Petersburg) was among the leading scorers as the Rustlers claimed the team titles in the California Community College Swimming and Diving Championships May 4-6 at East Los Angeles College. Gibb, who already held the state record in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 20.32 seconds set April 27, won the 50 free Thursday with a time of 20.53 (he had hoped to break the national junior college record of 20.09). Gibb also helped Golden West claim the titles in the 200 free relay (in a state record time of 1:22.80) and the 400 medley relay (in 3:24.94) on Thursday. On Friday, Gibb helped the Rustlers win the 200 medley relay in 1:33.73 and he took second place (behind a teammate) in the 100 backstroke with a time of 51.13. On Saturday, Gibb closed out the meet by posting a personal best time of 44.96 to win the 100 free, narrowly missing the state record of 44.70 and the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying time of 44.89 (he has met the Olympic Trials qualifying time in the 50 free). Gibb also led Golden West's 400 free relay team to a state record time of 3:01.95 to end the meet Saturday.
University of Alaska Anchorage senior guard Chris Hamey (Juneau-Douglas) was one of 11 people nominated for UAA's Athlete of the Year Award, which was awarded April 30 to one of the other nominees. Hamey also won the basketball team's Rebounders Trophy, which is given to the player who best displays the qualities of sportsmanship and leadership toward teammates, coaches, referees, opponents, media and fans. Hamey led the Seawolves this year with 14.6 points a game, 91 assists and 29 steals en route to secondteam all-Pacific West Conference honors. Junior walk-on Shaun O'Shea, a Juneau resident who graduated from high school in Virginia, won both the Most Inspirational and Academic awards from UAA this year. O'Shea, an elementary education major, posted a 3.97 GPA over the spring and fall 1999 semesters.
The Juneau Empire's College Corner feature runs about twice a month and is compiled by Charles Bingham from college Web sites and tips from readers. There will be one more College Corner for this school year, to run at the end of May or first part of June. Readers wanting to let Bingham know of any Southeast Alaska residents competing in collegiate-level athletics should send a note (attention sports) by fax to 1-907-586-3028 or by e-mail to email@example.com.