USC Viterbi Students Engineer Success for USC Men’s Crew Team

| June 28, 2023

Combining Academic Excellence and Athletic Prowess for Competitive Edge

USC Men's Crew Team Photo at the ACRA National Championship (Caleb Blumenshine)

USC Men’s Crew Team Photo at the ACRA National Championship (Caleb Blumenshine)

Daily, they would rise at dawn and dip their oars in the Port of Los Angeles as the sky bled a Trojan cardinal. 

This year, with the USC men’s crew team celebrating their 75th season, roughly a third of those students were Trojan engineers. 

With 15 USC Viterbi student-athletes on the roster, the crew program has witnessed a remarkable infusion of engineering talent, revolutionizing the way the team approaches the sport.

Among these exceptional USC Viterbi student-athletes, Reagan Arvidson and Mickey Bresnahan are capturing attention with their ambitious aspirations to work for NASA. Their presence on the team exemplifies a blend of intellectual curiosity, athletic prowess and dedication to excellence that defines USC Viterbi students.

“A lifelong dream of mine has been to work for NASA,” said freshman Mickey Bresnahan. “Outside of rowing, I make sure to keep up with academics and stay on top of my duties as a student.”

What distinguishes these Viterbi students is not only their commitment to rowing but also their exceptional academic achievements.

Out of the 15 Viterbi student-athletes on the team, 13 of them are on track to make Academic All-American honors (Academic All-American requirements: 1st team = 3.85-4.0 GPA, 2nd team = 3.5-3.84 GPA). Five of the Viterbi students have earned the prestigious 1st Team Academic All-American recognition, a testament to their unwavering commitment to balancing their rigorous engineering coursework with their athletic commitments. Among these academic achievers is Sophia Steck, who has already secured her spot on the 1st Team. Additionally, eight Viterbi student-athletes are poised to receive 2nd Team Academic All-American honors, further underscoring the collective dedication to academic excellence within the USC Men’s Crew program.

The recent ACRA National Championships were a defining moment of the season. Out of the 14 student-athletes competing at the championships, six of them hail from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The team’s 4-seater placed 4th overall in the Men’s Varsity Grand Final.


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“I’m proud that my crew team and I were able to place within the top 4 of the grand finals,” said Caleb Blumenshine, a senior sociology major and captain of the 2023-2024 team. “We gained a lot of momentum last season, and I think we’ll keep it going for this one. I’m especially looking forward to seeing what we’re capable of at the Head of the Charles in October!”

In an inspiring story of resilience, the USC Men’s Crew team has emerged from the ashes of adversity, redefining their future in the face of a global pandemic.

In the spring of 2018, the team celebrated its 70th anniversary and consisted of 25 athletes. 

The USC Mens’ Crew team relies on walk-ons and is largely independent from the university’s athletic department or admissions scholarships. In other words, the program is financially dependent on alumni and parent donations to successfully compete against over 350 programs nationwide.

Annually, the team throws an Erg-A-Thon where members ask friends and family for donations based on the total of meters rowed. 

USC Men's Crew Team

USC Men’s Crew Team

In a push to grow the team, a group of 11 team members, including four Viterbi students and captain Brandon Courture founded The Crew House, a team house just off the USC main campus, established as a dedicated training and gathering space.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 posed a huge obstacle, halting the team’s plans, suspending practices and closing gyms.

The 11 athletes residing in The Crew House saw this as a perfect opportunity to take advantage of their living situation and turn it into a lifeline for athletic, personal, and academic resilience.

Despite no new recruits during the pandemic and athletes graduating, the athletes at The Crew House were able to keep the team afloat by continuing training in any way possible, from long runs around Los Angeles to “prison-style weightlifting” in their front lawn.

Marco Valero, who graduated from Viterbi in 2021 with a master’s degree in transportation engineering, became captain and led team training sessions every day at 5:30 a.m. for months. With the team’s determination, USC Men’s Crew was able to end their season successfully, as they took home several victories in a national singles virtual COVID race.

USC Men's Crew Team Photo while airsofting

USC Men’s Crew Team outing during spring break (Caleb Blumenshine)

Nearly four years after the founding of The Crew House, USC Men’s Crew now celebrates its 75th anniversary with a large and accomplished roster of student-athletes. Growing from seven to 40 members in a span of two years, the team has continued to expand despite the pandemic hardships through its’ bonding traditions such as team-wide workouts and barbecues. At the latest Erg-A-Thon in March, 48 rowers spent 24 hours completing 358,984 meters to raise $21,912 for the team. 

Current head coach John Kaitz was hired in 2021, and redesigned the team’s training programs.

“Rowers, by the very nature of their sport, tend to be pretty tenacious, and also closet perfectionists,” Kaitz explained. “Rowing is a repetitive motion, of course, but requires great focus to detail to do it well.” 

Additionally, Kaitz tied in the sport of crew with academics, specifically how skills were transferable from the sport to success in the classroom.

The combination of physical effort needed to go fast, along with the mental effort needed to maintain proper feel and technique, contributes to the ‘high achieving’ character traits of those that rise to the top in the sport,” he said. “Because of their ability to focus intensely, or the development of that ability through practice, the skill transfers itself to the classroom. Additionally, rowers are highly competitive, and like training, they aggressively pursue continual improvement in their tests, and general understanding of their subject.”

“With the intensive rowing schedule, I learned that to stay on top of everything, you just have to stay aware of deadlines a bit farther out than you normally would. By planning things out a full week in advance rather than just a few days you leave yourself a more forgiving margin of error,” said Louis Addison, a junior computer science major and 1st Team Academic All-American. “Your season of rowing is a bit intoxicating and if you’re not careful you can find yourself spending up to 7 hours a day between water practice and gym work. I only realized how much time I was committing to crew once school became laborious.”

Achieving commendable academic performance and exhibiting impressive prowess on water, these students have earned distinct honors, embodying the adage, “anything is possible.” The achievements of these student-athletes, both in and out of the classroom, show that the pursuit of dual excellence in academics and sports, while challenging, is not an impossibility, but a reality for those who dare to fully commit.

Published on June 28th, 2023

Last updated on July 27th, 2023

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