Sophomore rower Kristine O'Brien (Massapequa Park, N.Y.) recently checked in with VirginiaSports.com to preview the team's quest for a second-consecutive NCAA Championship. The 'Hoos were selected to the 16-team field for the 2011 championships, being held May 27-29 in Gold River, Calif.
Question: With the regular season over and the NCAA bid announced, how will the team spend the next week and a half preparing? Do you think it is in the team's head that you are the reigning champions?
O'Brien: Over the next week, the coaches will definitely have a lot up their sleeves before we leave for NCAAs. We like to call some of the workouts 'money in the bank,' all of which will challenge us both physically and mentally and push us harder than we think we can go, which is the amazing thing about them and the best way to prepare us for NCAAs. As far as being the reigning champions, I think it's in the back of our minds, but it's a new year and we're humble and hungry to see what we can bring this year.
Question: Rowing with the Varsity Eight this year, the crew's only losses have been to teams ranked No. 4 (Stanford), No. 3 (California), No. 3 (USC) and No. 1 (Princeton). How much does it help to race the fastest teams during the regular season before NCAAs?
O'Brien: It is definitely very important to race the best teams before NCAAs because we want to challenge ourselves. It helps to see where we are against other teams and what we need work on to be competitive at NCAAs. Going into this year [head coach] Kevin [Sauer] and [associate head coach] Steve [Pritzker] definitely tried to give us the most difficult schedule. Looking back on it now, they were tough losses, but we are that much more prepared and excited to have a shot at racing them again.
Question: You have been the stroke seat for the Varsity Eight for most if not all of this year - for people who may be unfamiliar can you explain that position in the boat and how it is different from the others?
O'Brien: Stroke seat is a bit different from others, you set the rhythm for the boat and everyone has to follow you. It can be a bit difficult at times, but with great people supporting you and translating your rhythm to the rest of the boat, it's a really fun seat. Stroke seat leads the boat with the rhythm, but can never do it without her coxswain and the seven girls behind her. Kevin told me this season "your job is to not lose anyone." It's a bit funny, sometimes I still get ahead of myself, so in stroke seat I definitely have to keep myself in check.
Question: Being from New York, what made you want to come to Virginia?
O'Brien: Rowing definitely brought me to Virginia, before I started I didn't even know what UVa was. When I began looking at schools, Virginia was my top choice but I thought I would never be good enough for them to look at me. When Steve called me for the first time, it was like Christmas morning. I was literally jumping up and down and I fell in love the second I stepped on grounds. Kevin and Steve were amazing, the team was so welcoming, and with outstanding academics, it was a no-brainer.
Question: Have you decided on a major and do you have a favorite class?
O'Brien: At this point I've decided on sociology. My favorite class would have to be Social Psychology with Oishi, it was very interesting and the professor was hilarious.
Question: Heading into the home stretch of the season, what would you say are your team's biggest strengths?
O'Brien: The team's biggest strength is heart. Through all of our ups and downs this season it is indescribable how much heart this team has. We may not always have the biggest erg scores, the tallest girls, or the best technique, but we do have heart and that will take us a very long way. Everyday I feel honored to be part of this team and I admire my teammates for what they have given and how they have challenged themselves this year. I am really excited to see how this strength will help us succeed at NCAAs.
Question: Again, for people who may be unfamiliar - NCAAs takes place over three days with heats, semifinals and finals - how do you prepare for a strenuous weekend? Are you glad you have one year under your belt and now know what to expect?
O'Brien: As I said before, we'll definitely prepare with our 'money in the bank' workouts. We'll also have a full-on taper, which is our only big taper all season. By the time NCAAs come it will give us more energy than we know what to do with. I am very glad I know what to expect this year, especially being in stroke seat. As a first year I was able to sit back in three seat and let the older girls calm me down because sometimes I got a bit too excited. I know how to take each race this year and hopefully I can help the younger girls in the boat.
Question: What is your first rowing memory or how did you get involved in the sport?
O'Brien: When I started attending a new high school, my parents were relentless in their efforts to get me to try rowing. I mostly just rolled my eyes at them. Before high school I played a lot of sports, so I was pretty athletic. I didn't think rowing was a real sport, I even told my parents that I wouldn't get a good workout out of it. Boy, was I wrong! I tried out for the team and made it, I even had my dad give me a crash course swimming lesson in our pool so I could pass the one-lap swim test. I'll give all the credit to my parents!
Question: You have a twin sister - is she a rower? An athlete?
O'Brien: A lot of people don't know about my twin sister and partner in crime Melanie. She's not a rower, although I have tried to get her to row. She thinks it's boring, so I gave up on that. Melanie plays basketball and will be transferring next semester to play DII basketball at Adelphi University. Unfortunately college has separated us and I miss her so much, but I am so proud of her. I couldn't ask for a better twin!