By From the Boston Globe
After six years competing as a club sport, the University of Massachusetts Lowell women’s rowing team has finally achieved varsity status.
The announcement coincides with the renaming of the Bellegarde Boathouse on the Merrimack River as the UMass Lowell Bellegarde Boathouse. Substantial renovations using $1 million in state funds were recently completed and the boathouse is expected to become a center for rowing and water sports in the Merrimack Valley. Youth and adult learn-to-row programs, as well as paddle board and kayaking rentals, are now available to the public.
“With the future of the boathouse stabilized, we are now in a position to advance rowing,’’ said UMass Lowell athletic director Dana Skinner.
Those words were music to the ears of Veronika Platzer, who guided the University of Virginia rowing team to the NCAA championship in 2004 and also coached at Michigan, Wisconsin, and Mercyhurst before she was hired at UMass Lowell last fall. Platzer is also director of the boathouse; she now resides in Lowell.
“We are so ready to go varsity,’’ said Platzer, who also coaches the US Junior national rowing team. “This was supposed to happen last year, but to be honest with you, I’m glad it didn’t. We still had lots of work to do. Now we’re on solid footing and have in place a solid infrastructure. Of course, we won’t have scholarships right away. One thing at a time. But it does make women’s rowing more authentic. Now when I’m on campus and see a potential rower, I can offer her varsity status. In a way, it makes the sport legitimate.’’
Platzer said UMass Lowell will be one of 18 Division 2 varsity women’s programs, most of them in Mid-Atlantic and Northeast schools, and she expects to have a full slate of races next spring.
She also said she expects to compete in the annual Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia, the largest college regatta for small NCAA and club programs.
This past season, UMass Lowell competed in home races on the Merrimack against teams from Franklin Pierce, Massachusetts Maritime, Vermont, Colby, US Coast Guard Academy, Roger Williams, and Hobart and William Smith.
Westford’s Erin Dubinski, who rowed on the varsity four this season along with Amanda Murray of West Newbury, Ianna Hondros-McCarthy of Lowell, Katrina Walther , and coxswain Kate Dufault, called the elevation of the program to varsity “overwhelmingly exciting.’’
“When I came here from Westford Academy, I had my heart set on playing at least one varsity sport during my four years,’’ said Dubinski, who is entering her senior year.
“I knew I was going to a college that didn’t have my sport of choice [Nordic skiing], but things have a way of working themselves out. This will fulfill my dream.’’
Dubinski had never rowed before, but “walked on as a freshman, went to my first practice at 5 a.m., and fell in love with it.’’
With the boathouse now renovated, Platzer said she is hoping that the UMass facilities will attract the attention of NCAA officials and perhaps some NCAA qualifying races.
“We have the resources that would rival any Division 1 program, and I am looking forward to giving it the best identity and direction it needs,’’ she said. “We have the seeds for a fantastic program.’’