Larry Davis would not have believed anyone if they told him 20 years ago that the University of Alabama’s rowing team would finish in fourth place and win three medals at the Big 12 Championships.
Both accomplishments were bests for the Crimson Tide, as two crews won silver medals and another earned a bronze medal, at the recent championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Davis took an unpaid coaching position with the UA club team in the fall of 1997, mostly due to his love of the sport. He maintained his job at the YMCA and worked for years helping the club with no assurance of anything more on the horizon.
“There were no expectations,” Davis said. “It was basically volunteer work for my first nine years. But it was something I saw had a great opportunity for developing, but we never had a feel this would be anything more than a club.”
When the Alabama rowing team was elevated to varsity status as part of the UA athletics department in 2006, Davis was named head coach.
Maggie Gillespie, a junior rower from Orlando, believes Davis has something no other coach could have brought to Alabama’s rowing program.
“One of the best things about him is that he has a real clear vision on where the program has been and where it is going,” Gillespie said. “He was probably one of the best coaches to take this program to the next level. His vision as to where we are going in the future has been a big part of making this team faster over the years.”
When Davis first started working with the club, they used to row from underneath the old Cypress Inn. They had only three small boats and could not have a large boat due to a lack of a bigger storage space.
Now they have a shiny, new facility, many different sized boats and a boathouse in which to store those boats.
Jennifer Parker, a graduating senior from Roswell, Ga., who saw the team move from portable boat storages to the boathouse, credits Davis for it all.
“Without Coach Davis, there would be no NCAA D1 rowing at UA and certainly no incredible state-of-the-art boathouse,” Parker said. “This team would not be possible without coach, and because of that I couldn’t thank him enough for his dedication to the team and UA.”
Nicole Lane, a junior from Johns Creek, Ga., and one of the team captains, believes the program is defined by its head coach.
“He has brought the program from the beginning to where it is now,” Lane said. “Each year he’s striving to push our limits so that when we compete at conference we represent Alabama better than we have before.”
Alabama competes in the Big 12 because the SEC does not sponsor rowing.
Lane and Parker earned all-conference honors for the 2017 spring rowing season.
In the upcoming years, Davis would like to see Alabama get more international prospects, to help take the next step many other teams around the NCAA have already begun taking.
Davis believes this year’s finish is a strong springboard for next season, with much of the team returning as the team only had six seniors this year.
“We got ourselves into the grand final in all five races and our finishes were some of the best we’ve had throughout the whole squad,” Davis said. “Everybody stepped up their game. While we missed out on a top-three finish, we were really close and the team should be hungry heading into next season.”
Davis believes Alabama is closing in on the chance of qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
While there is still plenty of work ahead, Davis likes to reflect on how far the program has come.
“When I ride by the old Cypress Inn, I think about where we were and the very humble starting of the program,” Davis said. “It is nice to see that evolve over the years I’ve been here.”
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