Weekend Race Coverage and RR Interview: Frank Biller of UVa on the 2012 Windermere Cup

The UVa varsity eight training in Seattle (Photo: © F. Biller)
The UVa men’s team has, once again, made a statement in the early season, and looks to be one of the favorites this weekend in Philadelphia at the 2012 Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta, as well as at the ACRA Championship Regatta later this month in Gainesville, GA. Having won the title in the men’s varsity eight at ACRAs last year, defeating perennial front runner Michigan along the way, UVa has shown thus far that it has not lost speed, despite having graduated some of the top talent from last year’s varsity crew. This was in evidence at SIRAs, where the Cavaliers battled a strong George Washington crew all the way to the line, eventually taking second place, less than a second behind the Colonials, with roughly a six second margin on the rest of the field.

Last weekend, UVa was invited to participate in the 2012 Windermere Cup, and had another strong showing, defeating Oregon State by roughly a length, and finishing just one tenth of a second behind a crew made up of national team athletes from Argentina. This weekend will be the first meeting of the year between the Cavs and Michigan. Grand Valley State, who defeated Michigan at the Lubber’s Cup, will also be in action in Philadelphia. Michigan responded recently by defeating GVSU at the Mid-American Collegiate Rowing Association (MACRA) Championships, and taking titles in the second varsity eight, frosh eight and frosh four to boot. Given this, as well as FIT, OCU, Jacksonville, Delaware and hometown favorites Temple and Drexel in the mix, the men’s varsity eight will be a stern test at Dad Vails.

You can watch the finals of the 2012 Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta live via espn.com beginning at 1pm EDT (10am Pacific) on Saturday. ECACs (Friday) and EARC Sprints (Sunday) will also be broadcast live via the internet beginning at 745am EDT tomorrow morning.

In anticipation of the weekend in Philly, we caught up with UVa head coach Frank Biller about the Virginia experience of Opening Day and the Windermere Cup, with a view toward championship racing season.

UVa Races at the 2012 Windermere Cup:

RR: When did you arrive and what was first on the schedule for you and the team?

Frank Biller: The team got there on Thursday, around noon. Thursday evening there was a dinner sponsored by Windermere Real Estate, the title sponsor of the event, and it was quite fancy–everyone was wearing blazers and ties. It was at the Conibear Shellhouse (where the UW athletes usually have their training table), which was decorated specially for the event. All the athletes and coaches were there, and we were placed at different tables, so there was a lot of exchange and talk–one of the great things they do was to have everyone introduce him or herself, name, what you study, where you’re from, etc. It was a serious event, yet very lighthearted.

The UVa squad at the Conibear Shellhouse (Photo: © F. Biller)
Friday we practiced on the course, and rowed a couple of pieces. Afterward there was some time to study [several of the athletes were taking final exams on the trip], rest, and a regular team dinner, and Saturday, of course, was race day. You could already see things developing even on Thursday, with the yachts starting to dock and the booms going in–you can definitely get a sense that this is a historic regatta. And then on Saturday, it’s even bigger than you think it’s going to be.

RR: What was your experience of race day?

FB: First of all, they have all these races ahead of the Windermere Cup–there are something like 100 boats out there on the water, and it seems like they all boat out of the UW boathouse. It’s just one boat after another–it feels almost like the start at the Head Of The Charles. Then, all of a sudden, it’s our turn to launch [for the last race of the day] and everything is empty. It went from a bustling place to just us and the Argentines in the entire boathouse, and we were looking at each other thinking, “Did we miss our start time?”

I was able to follow the race along with Mike Callahan and Steve Todd from OSU, which was fun. It’s a serious race, but we were enjoying it as much as the guys [racing]. I mean, it’s an incredible experience–all the yachts lined up along the course, it was really loud. My guys were looking out of the boat more than ever [laughs]. The water looked flat, but you could just see the way the boats were going–I think there were some currents or turbulence that contributed to the times being slower, but you just have to deal with it. It made for some interesting steering, especially from the Argentine crew.

RR: What was the scene on the lake following the racing? 

FB: You head down through the Cut, and it then your end up in Portage Bay on the other side. After the racing, everyone turns around rows back out–I’m proud to say that we led the parade! There were just rowing shells everywhere–like the Vogalonga in Venice. Great atmosphere–everyone is just happy. It was very, very cool.

The medal ceremony took place at the boathouse after the racing, and it was again a kind of formal event, with Bob Ernst as M.C. Continuously through the event, there was a great deal of positive exchange with the U.W. rowers–they were very friendly and accommodating of our rowers, very down to earth.

RR: With Dad Vails on the horizon, how did you adapt your training schedule? What was your overall impression of the trip?

FB: We rowed a second workout after the race, as we would be traveling the next day to get home and get ready for Dad Vails. It’s not the easiest schedule, but it was well worth the trip–it’s a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity for these kids. I really want to point out the generosity of Windermere and the hospitality and inclusiveness of Bob Ernst, Mike Callahan and the UW program. It was really a nice gesture–as a rower you never expect that kind of attention, but when you get it you really just soak it in–it was great.

There were a lot of impressions from our time visiting the UW program–it was good to see for the guys that, in many ways, there are similarities. They don’t really do anything different, they just do everything a little bit better–a little more refinement, a little more intensity, etc. In some ways it’s dismaying because they are not bigger, but they just have a few more years of rowing at a high level under their belts, and they’re great athletes.

It was definitely not just an Argentine tourist group that showed up–they brought a very good mix of young talent. We had a lead on them early, and the way they were able to wind it up in the end, well, they were no joke.

Thanks very much to Coach Biller for taking the time! Images courtesy of and copyright to Frank Biller. 


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