Aberdeen, Bath, Liverpool and Strathclyde students are rising through the ranks of university rowing and inspiring many on their journey. Alex McMullen from Junior Rowing News finds out more
While universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, and Newcastle, Oxford Brookes and University of London are well known for their rowing programmes, several newer faces are beginning to make an impression.
Among these are Bath University Boat Club, Liverpool University Boat Club, Strathclyde University Boat Club, and University Rowing Aberdeen. They have all shown a dramatic rise in both club membership and league table performance in recent years. We caught up with representatives from all four clubs to discuss their current squads, recent success stories, and their goals for the future.
Bath University Boat Club
Set on the banks of the River Avon and known among members as CrewBath, Bath University Boat Club brands itself as being open to all at the university who want to row, regardless of previous experience. This inclusive, yet competitive, atmosphere encouraged former Club President John Laurenson to join the senior men’s squad.
“At its core, Bath is an entirely student-run boat club, but it does benefit from a highly successful partnership with British Rowing as a World Class Start centre,” John explains. Bath has produced GB rowing greats like Heather Stanning, Helen Glover, and Vicky Thornley, to name but a few.
Under the leadership of coach Dan Harris, the club is developing a reputation for polishing rough gems into sparkling jewels of rowing potential. Current GB squad members Sara Parfett and Sam Courty also came up through Bath’s World Class Start programme.
Athletes have commented on the tight integration between club and high-performance programmes creating a positive, driven squad atmosphere.
Unlike some of Bath’s better-known peers, the student-run club does not benefit from full-time professional coaching. Instead, many of the sessions are led by club members themselves on a voluntary basis. John says that it is this that has given the club “an underdog mentality”.
Moving forward, the club plans to invest in a new boathouse with current roomie Minerva Bath RC to propel athletes forward well into the next decade.
Liverpool University Boat Club
A star of the young 2021/22 head season, Liverpool University Boat Club walked away from their most successful ever Fours Head with a win in the men’s academic coxed fours and a second-place finish in the women’s academic quads. It’s a fascinating rise and one that both President Callum Kemp and Vice-President Finli O’Donoghue have been watching closely.
“We have more of a structured coaching staff this year, with permanent volunteers and a full-time novice coach which has given us far greater direction,” Finli explains. “The success is being driven by a really good culture; we’re one team between men and women which is really driving our success.”
However, it hasn’t always been this way, and like most boat clubs across the UK, Covid put greater strain on the club than ever before.
Callum says: “I was the president last year through Covid, so I’ve seen the club about as low as it can get.
“We really couldn’t do much at all last year, but now it feels like there isn’t a limit on where we can go, and that’s a very exciting feeling.”
Finli adds: “I’ve been at the club for five years, and at the time in my third year, our women’s four at BUCS Head felt like the best boat I’d ever be in; we’ve only been back a few weeks, but the crews already feel so much better than they did then – and that was with months and months of training.”
“We’re dreaming big… there’s no point turning up without big aspirations,” says Callum.
Emboldened by the club’s success on the Tideway, the committee has drafted greater ambitions for the squad as the season progresses, with BUCS Head being the next major marker before the campaign for BUCS Regatta and Henley Royal begins after WeHORR and HORR.
Watch this space!
Strathclyde University Boat Club
Previously known on the circuit for their striking polka dot all-in-ones, Strathclyde University Boat Club’s recent successes in Scotland and across the UK has thrust them under the collective microscope of the rowing world.
The club prides itself on humble beginnings. It operates under entirely student management, with brothers Chris and Ben Parsonage taking centre stage in membership logistics, training programme coordination, and coaching.
“The door is open to everyone and beginners are the heart of our membership,” says Chris, who is now Club Captain. “Almost everyone at the club learnt to row here.”
On paper, Strathclyde is now one of the highest-performing university boat clubs that does not benefit from a full-time coach. With an influx of lightweight and open weight athletes in the last five years, the club now boasts an impressive 50-strong membership, distributed across the senior and novice men’s and women’s squads.
This recruitment drive mainly stems from Strathclyde’s most successful BUCS performance to date at the 2021 Regatta, where they picked up a string of medals of all colours across beginner and championship men’s sculling events.
“It’s so fulfilling when it all goes well,” explains kit officer Andrew Laird, also a BUCS 2021 championship lightweight medallist. “Knowing that we came together and organised it all ourselves is now embedded in the spirit of the club.”
Even during the height of lockdown, when solitary erging became the new normal, Strathclyde rowers used this time to their advantage and continued to progress.
“We gained a lot more insight and knowledge this past year as both individuals and as a club through lockdown,” says Club Secretary Nia Struthers.
“Now this is paying off and leading to breakthroughs like BUCS, and it has been so nice to see the growth of the club in such a short space of time.”
Behind the scenes, the club has been working hard to kick-start boathouse refurbishments and new gym facilities.
This spirit of banding together for the betterment of the club is now driving Strathclyde rowers forwards into their 2021-2022 season. At the recent Inverness Head, one of the biggest head races in Scotland, Strathclyde sent a record number of entries, resulting in competitive times from senior squads and great experience for novice crews.
Further aspirations include even more medals at BUCS 2022 and representation at Henley Women’s Regatta and Henley Royal.
University Rowing Aberdeen
A joint venture between Aberdeen University Boat Club (est. 1870) and Robert Gordon University Boat Club (est. 1992), University Rowing Aberdeen (URA) welcomes student athletes from beginner right through to international level, based out of both clubs’ boathouses on the River Dee.
The partnership was initially formed in 2012 as a means for both clubs to share resources, equipment, coaching, and funding.
Senior cox Alliott Irvine has experienced this unity at first-hand, having joined the programme in 2018 and since representing URA at Henley Royal, among a plethora of other local and national events.
“One thing we have learned is that it is better to work alongside the clubs around you,” Alliott highlights. “We sometimes even train alongside the juniors at Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association.”
The clubs on the Dee are the embodiment of community spirit, which has ultimately led to an upsurge in membership. With a senior squad of around 40 men and women and an equal number of novices welcomed this year, URA provides a well-rounded programme that generates a genuine love for our sport.
Of course, there’s no shortage of fun at URA either, with events like the Aberdeen Boat Race organised by the student committee allowing the old rivalry of the partner clubs to return in the form of mixed eights.
In addition to the senior and novice squads, URA also takes pride in its Talented Athlete Programme, which aims to cultivate international athletes during their time at university.
“The coaches are great at knowing when rowing really clicks, and there really is something for everyone at URA,” adds Alliott.
Much like the other universities, URA also has its fair share of success stories. Most recently, former URA senior Abigail Topp was the highest-ranking U23 athlete in women’s sweep at the first round of 2021 GB trials.
Other notable achievements include three URA appearances at Henley Royal in 2021, and their women’s development coxed four reaching the final at Henley Women’s in the same year.
Photos: Drew Smith and Donald Cameron