With only 11 days until its first race of the spring season, Glenn Putyrae’s team wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Instead of rowing on the Black Warrior River, his team was stranded on land by heavy rains that caused the river to swell to levels he never expected.
Even though his team missed six straight days of practice time on the water as the deluge drenched Tuscaloosa, Putyrae isn’t worried that it will impact the Crimson Tide’s performance against Eastern Michigan on Saturday morning.
Putyrae, who was announced as Alabama’s second ever head coach last June, doesn’t like to focus on the negatives. He’s more of a glass-half full kind of guy, and his optimism has already injected Alabama’s program with new energy as it heads into just its 13th season.
“There’s a new motivation, a new drive,” senior rower Lauren Fehr said. “I feel like (Putyrae) pushes us more. Even girls individually are pushing themselves more. We’re getting more PRs, getting faster.”
Under former coach Larry Davis, Alabama’s rowing team experienced monumental growth, transitioning from a club team to a NCAA division I competitor. The University doubled-down on the progress they saw, providing the rowing team with an impressive boathouse at Manderson Landing.
The support and resources for Alabama’s rowing team are robust, which was one of the main reason why Putyrae decided to take the job this summer after successful coaching stints at Gonzaga and Georgetown.
“The opportunity to have the ability to have the only limiter being my ability and the staff’s ability as coaches and the athletes’ ability to get better as really our only limitation. That’s what you get with resources,” Putyrae said. “Our biggest challenge is getting the right athletes and helping them be the best they can be.”
Putyrae wants to lift the program to new heights. So do his rowers. Shortly after Putyrae arrived, he met with his team to discuss short-term and long-term goals for the program. Instead of listing off his expectations, Putyrae allowed his team to state their ambitions first.
“It was more, not really him defining expectations, but us coming together and creating team goals and saying ‘Hey, look at the facilities we have. Look at the coaching staff, the good weather,’” senior rower Makena Clark said. “Coming together as a team and creating those goals, we realized we are capable of a lot.”
The goal for this season, according to Clark and Fehr, is finishing in the top three at the Big12 Championships in May. Since Alabama is only an affiliate member of the Big12 because the SEC doesn’t have a conference for rowing, the Crimson Tide can’t technically win the Big12. However, if Alabama posts a fast enough time, it could earn qualification to nationals.
Putyrae doesn’t define this season’s goals quite as tangibly. Instead, he simply wants this season to be the best in Alabama’s history. How that’s measured is based on perception.
“Ideally this’ll be the best season we’ve had in our history,” Putyrae said. “How much better is going to be relative and how it’s measured by people on the outside is how we finish at our conference championships. How it’s measured internally is a little different … I think the goal is to put yourself in the position to win a national championship eventually, and where we are now is a long way from there, so our measure of success is whether or not we’re making progress toward the ultimate goal.”
The first step toward progress begins on Saturday at 9 a.m. when Alabama races Eastern Michigan on the Black Warrior River. The race can be watched from Manderson Landing Park.