North Suburban Crew heads to national championships
Tait Goodwin, Kristen Halvorson, Bridget Bourbon, Kristen Baker, Emma Rowell, Leigh Ketelsen, Hannah Carlson, Caroline Hiteshew, and Bunny Olson. | Contributed photo
Updated: July 8, 2012 6:29PM
Early to bed and early to rise makes the girls on the North Suburban Crew (NSC) Team – bound for the national championships Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Tennessee.
This is the first time since 2008 the club, open to girls attending area high schools, has qualified for nationals. The two boats that will compete are the lightweight 4 and the lightweight 8. The lightweight division is open to all girls weighing no more than 130 pounds.
The lightweight 8 boat features three Lake Forest High Schools students: Tait Goodwin, Kristen Baker and Emma Rowell. The other spots are logged by students from Woodlands Academy: Bridget Bourbon (Riverwoods), Hannah Carlson (Lake Forest), Kristen Halvorson (Libertyville), Caroline Hiteshew (Chicago), Leigh Ketelsen (Lincolnshire) and Bunny Olson (Evanston). Baker, Bourbon, Carlson, Halvorson and Ketelsen man the lightweight 4.
A full 50 percent of the 18 girls that comprise the club qualified for nationals.
Bourbon said her friends give her some grief when she turns off her phone and logs off the computer at 8 p.m. since her wakeup call for early-morning practice is a scant eight hours later.
“They’re pretty shocked by it and don’t really know what to do with it,” she said. “They’ll laugh at me a little bit but it’s all worth it.”
The girls practice five days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 7. They practice indoors until the weather turns and they have the chance to practice on the water.
The girls may not love the early starting time but know that is simply the way it is in crew. Ketelsen is up at 4 a.m. each morning so she can be at school by 5 a.m. to make the team bus.
“If I’m not down by 4:30 she’s yelling at me that we’ll be late,” said her mother, Kathryn Hayley, an NSC Board Member. “It’s really takes discipline and maturity and they get phenomenal exercise.”
The team’s head coach, Evanston resident Heather La Vigne, has lived the crew lifestyle since she rowed at the University of Colorado.
“It’s exciting to get up and go to practice in the morning; it’s not something I have to drag my feet to do,” she said. “It’s exciting to see them work hard, get motivated and start to build up speed and win medals.”
While the indoor practices can be drudgery, the payoff comes when the girls work as one unit on the water.
“When you’re out rowing with the wind in your hair and feel yourself moving in the water, it’s almost an unworldly feeling,” said Carlson, who along with Bourbon are the team’s co-captains.
When girls go out for crew for the first time, many second guess their decision until they hit the water. Then, like Carlson, many are hooked.
“Once you get out on the water, it’s amazing,” Ketelsen said. “Everything you have done is worth it.”
La Vigne and assistant coach Josh Karney, who rows for the Lincoln Park Boat Club, make sure every girl on the team competes in each regular season meet. Each girl won at least one medal this season.
The team travels to regattas in different parts of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Each year, the team makes a trip to South Carolina over spring break to train at Clemson University.
A big part of the team camaraderie is forged on those long road trips by van. The girls pass the time by belting tunes, “consuming a lot of food” and sleeping.
“I love it,” Bourbon said. “It’s very much a bonding experience. The team has become such a huge part of my life and I couldn’t imagine not seeing them every day.
Rowing is perhaps the ultimate team sport.
“In basketball or volleyball you can have one star player carrying the team,” Bourbon said. “In crew, you work together and everyone has to pull the same amount to make the boat work. You’re continually inspired every day to work hard for your teammates.”
The lightweight 4 and lightweight 8 qualified for nationals May 19 and 20 at the Midwest Rowing Championships in City. The lightweight 4 covered the standard 2,000 meter course in 7:59 and placed third. The lightweight 8 was second with a time of 7:31.
Particularly exciting is all of the girls except for Halvorsen will return next year. Additionally, the coxswain for each boat (Tait, lightweight 4) and Baker (lightweight 8) are new to the sport. The coxswain is the coach on the water and charged with encouraging her teammates and making adjustments during the race.
“They’re really good at what they do,” Ketelsen said. “They can move a boat from last place to first.”
The youth of the team and improvement over the course of the season made qualifying for nationals even more gratifying.
“It was tremendously exciting and intense to watch the whole regional competition,” La Vigne said. “It was fun to see them exceed their expectations.”