FW natives make splash at nationals

When this year’s high school graduates enroll at college next year, one sport they might consider is crew.

While it’s not offered in area high schools, crew is a sport many college freshman pick up as a way to continue in athletics.

Just ask Lindsay Kuciemba and Trisha Sawatzky.

Kuciemba, a 1999 Federal Way High School graduate who rows for Pacific Lutheran University, took fifth place in varsity eight (eight rowers in a boat) at NCAA Division III nationals this year.

“We shocked the heck out of people over there, as they’d never heard of PLU before,” Kuciemba said.

Sawatzky, a 1998 graduate of Decatur High School who rows for Seattle Pacific University, took first place at the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Championships in women’s pair (two rowers in a boat) and won the Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia in women’s pair.

Sawatzky was also named Seattle Pacific’s women’s Athlete of the Year. Its the first time an SPU female rower has been named Athlete of the Year.

Kuciemba and Sawatzky played sports such as volleyball, softball, gymnastics, cross country and track in high school, but saw crew as an opportunity to compete in a collegiate sport.

“I was used to doing team sports,” Kuciemba said. “I never even rowed in high school. I just came to PLU and started rowing right then. If you have the heart and dedication, it takes you so far. It’s a sport anyone can go for.

“Crew is an amazing sport. Just the flow, how every movement has to be the same. It’s the most team-oriented sport. And when it gets in that rhythm, it’s just amazing how fast you can make a boat go.”

Prior to nationals, Kuciemba’s varsity eight boat won the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association regionals that pitted them against Division II schools, which can offer scholarships and recruit. Division III schools like PLU can’t offer scholarships.

“We went into it as the underdog,” Kuciemba said. “We didn’t even think we’d make it to the finals. It was amazing, we ended up sweeping it.”

Crew takes dedication. Practices are grueling and athletes often wake up before sunrise. Workouts consist of both running and rowing.

“I wish I could get eight hours of sleep a night, but I can never do that,” Kuciemba said. “It’s not too fun because I end up falling asleep in class. You can’t have much of a social life.”

Despite lack of sleep, both Kuciemba and Sawatzky have managed to do well both on the water and in the classroom.

Sawatzky earned SPU’s Scholar Athlete Award.

“She’s made a clean sweep of the awards available to her, be it all conference, all-region or academic all region,” said coach Keith Jefferson. “She rowed in the varsity four which won the conference title. But then she hopped back in the pairs boat with Kimberly Tschetter and won not only the conference, but the regional and national titles as well. That pairs boat became the first Falcon varsity crew to ever finish a season unbeaten.”

Sawatzky plans to graduate from SPU in December of 2002 with a major in physics. This summer she is interning at the University of Michigan in the Space Physics Research Lab within the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.

Kuciemba, who graduates this year, says she’ll stick with the sport after college.

“I’m probably going to end up rowing Masters, when I turn 22,” Kuciemba said. “It’s a sport you can keep doing your whole life, whether for recreation or competition. I’ve always grown up on the lake, so I’ve always had that connection with water.”

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