May 14, 2014
MADISON, Wis. - Men's rowing coach Chris Clark appeared before the media at Wisconsin's Monday news conference at Camp Randall Stadium to answer questions about his team and this week's Eastern Sprints, which are set for Sunday in Worcester, Massachusetts.
THE MODERATOR: The No. 16 ranked Wisconsin men's rowing team heads to Worcester, Mass., this Sunday to compete in the 2014 Eastern Sprints, which serves as the EARC Conference Championship meet.
Badgers have finished in the top five in seven of the last eight years at the Eastern Sprints, winning the event most recently in 2008.
Head Coach Chris Clark is here. We'll have opening comments and then take questions.
COACH CLARK: I didn't realize we were ranked 16th. We definitely deserve that. No question at this point. Hopefully, we can deserve something better after this.
I was just back there thinking a little bit before I came up here, and I don't like to prepare very much. I'm the antithesis of that. At least for something like this.
You know, the water here can be difficult, especially when it's ice, and the last couple of years you know, when you're really good, it doesn't matter as much, the conditions, but the last couple of years, we could have really used a little help based on the kind of personnel we have.
It will be 28 days today from when we put the docks in. That doesn't mean we didn't row at all. We had other places, we had spring break. So I would say kind of where we are is where a lot of teams are in mid March. Back in the olden days, our championship was in mid June. I used to think that was a quaint tradition. They're a little sharper then than we are today. June 1st, that makes a big difference.
The days at this point are like dog days. In other words, one day for us is about seven days in normal world. So having an extra two weeks would make a big difference, but we'll see.
Q. Where do you get your enthusiasm from?
COACH CLARK: I'm always enthused, but I'm also realistic too.
It's frustrating, in the last 10 dual races we've had, we've won one. That's by far the biggest - I wouldn't we call losing streak - it's not exactly that, but it's close - in the entire time I've been here.
You have to learn how to win, there's no question.
And I like to - you know that I compare us to a lot of other sports, if it makes it easier for anybody else listening to understand, but when they're always talking about quarterbacks in the NFL, you know exactly why that matters. It isn't just because they're the director of the offense, but it's a confidence game.
If you don't have alphas in our sport - I don't like to point out the differences in rowing because people already think it's different. I would rather mainstream us, which is a term you hear in education a lot, as opposed to saying, oh, we're different, and list five different ways. But one way we are is you need leaders, and the more you have, the easier it is for everybody else. There's a hierarchy of people: That guy's a leader, I've got to follow him.
And we're also the only team endurance sport that exists in the world, as far as I know. You have swimming, you have maybe 4 x 100 in track. But that's not an endurance sport. We're a team endurance sport because people are surviving from point A to point B, over a mile and a quarter, with a heart rate of about 220 together, and it requires tough people to do it. It usually requires a couple of super tough people, and then everybody else falls into line.
At this point we've had many, many I would say lieutenant JGs but not a lot of captains. I have one guy that certainly fits that role, but he's only a sophomore. It's difficult for any sophomore. I mean, look at our football, our basketball team. Look how good they are now, but a couple of years ago - certainly basketball in particular. As they're getting older, they're getting better by the minute, just because they've been there. We don't have that yet.
I hope - that isn't a direct answer, but I never give direct answers. You know that.
I am enthusiastic.
Q. Who's the sophomore, Chris?
COACH CLARK: Patrick Muto, M u t o. He's a physiological specimen. I'd say if you tested him VO2 max, he probably is number one in the entire athletic program. I'll bet he's 7 1/2 liters VO2 max, if you know what that is, probably approaching 8, which is off the charts physically. That puts him in probably 1 out of 1,000 men I would say. He's that big.
You have the same thing, you'll get that kind of VO2 max in a cross country runner, except you're going to be 5'6", 130 pounds. You're not going to be effective rowing. You want 6'4", and he's 6'4", 195.
I remember we did some testing, past national team stuff, and about 14 millimoles of lactate in your blood is considered failure. Top guy was a guy, by the way, he was 28 and - in other words, twice the elite athlete level before he failed. Pat is very similar to that. When he rows hard, he can't walk for a while afterward. And it's not a show.
We have one, but we need the rest of them to fall in line, or at least some of them.
Q. Do you have the talent that could maybe do something special?
COACH CLARK: That's what's frustrating about this group is body wise they look great. It's like, wow, these guys could do it. The last time we got a bit of a dip we didn't have athletes like this. They just they started out probably losing too much their first year. Once you've learned to do that, then it's just you're running a laundry list in your head of the ways we're going to lose. You see it with any team. How are we going to lose? Is it going to be a turnover? Is it going to be an interception? Are they just going to outscore us?
It's the same thing in rowing. Like, oh, boy, we're going to miss this row. Is the water going to be bad?
Eventually you switch to: Let me count the ways that I can win.
We're not there yet. We're definitely at the bottom of the cycle. I'm not sure if we've hit the bottom of the pool yet. I use this metaphor all the time. You know there's a bottom to anything. And everybody in history has jumped in a pool and you get bored, you don't know what to do, you shut your eyes everybody does that - you blow the air out of your lungs and you start drifting down.
And if you drift slowly, you know there's a bottom. You're just not exactly sure where it is, and then your toes hit it and you bounce back.
We're hovering right over the bottom. And those lungs are burning, eyes are shut. Got to touch, bounce back.
I'm not sure exactly where we are, but there is a bottom.
Q. So with that said, what are your realistic expectations for the EARC?
COACH CLARK: The heat we have is some traditional teams like Harvard and Cornell. In a normal year, four out of five, five years, bam, I don't think we got worse than fourth, or maybe it was fifth. And this group could easily be in a grand final with 18 teams and six go to the grand finals, seven to twelve is petite, and then the third level final after that, and these easily could be in the - easily could be in the grand finals. But they're going to have to get over the idea of let's see how many ways we can screw it up.
We've done that a lot already. So hopefully they have a quiver of pulling out arrows of messing up. Hopefully they realize they're out of arrows. What the heck. Let's just go ahead and do well. We'll see, though.
But in a year that you're not as set, you're changing lineups all the time. That doesn't mean you'd want a lineup for three years either. The shelf life and lifespan of an eight, in particular, is sort of mayfly like. It's not very long.
However, someone reminded me that we set this lineup Friday afternoon. So even by rowing standards, it's pretty young.
Q. To continue with that awesome analogy about people touching the bottom of the pool, are you with them, or are you waiting for the heads to bob back up?
COACH CLARK: It depends. When I get home and I do yard work, I'm waiting for the heads to pop back up. I'm thinking about it all the time. In practice, I'm with them. I am with them.
We had a coaching little exercise, get to know each other with Terry Gawlik's coaches in particular, and we had to sit down and interview another coach, and the coach had to interview us. That was part of an exercise that I was with Kelly, the volleyball coach, and just some of the questions we asked made me think - it forces you to think about who you are.
It's tough. It's like - what do they say, reviewers about movies in Hollywood? It made me laugh. It made me cry. I feel like that's our practice half the time.
Bebe can relate to that. During the practice. Yes. Did I just see that and then it's - so when I'm there, I'm there. When I'm not, I'm off somewhere praying that it gets better. Sooner. Because it will. It always does.