Away we row: Men's team starts practice
The men's rowing team began practice at 6 a.m. Wednesday. Play Video
The men's rowing team began practice at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
The weather outside’s delightful … unfortunately for the Jacksonville University men’s rowing team, they’re inside getting physical.

The team could only longingly look out over the St. Johns River from their rowing machines inside the Negaard Rowing Center’s at their first practice early Wednesday having to wait to hit the water.

“It’s tough because right now it’s January 11, it’s 65 degrees outside and the water is completely flat and perfect for rowing but we’re inside on these rowing machines,’’ coach and rowing director Jim Mitchell said.

There’s a solid reason his team is working on land until near the end of February. The in-house training done now should pay dividends at season’s end.

“Mentally it’s a little tough for some of these guys but this training on the machines is essential for our success later on when it really counts,’’ he said. “This first week or so we’re doing a lot of testing and evaluating where they are in their fitness levels and we’ll use that information to more develop our training plan for the rest of the year.’’

Mitchell hesitates to develop the fitness plan too early.

“If we develop a training plan way ahead of time and they come back not as fit as we would like it’s not going to work out for them and we’ll have to change everything,’’ he said. “They had a really good fall of training and they should have trained on their own quite a bit. We don’t expect them to be faster when they come back but they should have some base fitness level. The higher the fitness level is now, the better we’ll be at the end of the year.’’

Being fit at season’s end carries more importance this season as the team has found its way to membership in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference which gives the team an identity and a chance at a conference title.

“Adding the MAAC championship to our schedule and joining the conference is really big for us,’’ Mitchell said. “It adds another level to our schedule. We’ll have four races back to back and back to back at the end of the season which is when it gets really tough.’’

“They’re excited because it gives them a little bit of an identity around campus. A lot of times because we’ve been independent and haven’t been affiliated with a conference we just do our own thing. We’ve had our championships to compete for but a lot of people, a lot of their peers and a lot of our peers (fellow coaches), around the university don’t really know what those mean. Being in a conference now, the MAAC which people know, that gives them something to shoot for because they can come back and be a conference champion to their peers. It’s a nice thing.’’

The message Mitchell has been sending apparently has been well received as he senses the team did its work after the fall season.

“They’ve done more this winter than we’ve done in a long time,’’ he said. “If our goals and expectations are set really high, as they are, there’s going to be some cost that comes along with that. It’s hard because it’s a big picture thing that’s hard to understand. It’s hard to see where we’re going to be May 12 for Dad Vails or April 28 for the MAAC, but as we realized over the past few months, it comes quick. We can’t waste any time.’’

- Jim Nasella