Lady Vols Take the River: Rowing at the University of Tennessee
The three-story Wayne G. Basler boathouse sits right on the edge of the Tennessee river, overlooked by Neyland Stadium and the Henley Street Bridge. It’s a grand structure, and makes getting out on the water extremely efficient. It’s also home to UTK’s Lady Vols rowing team.
“Having the boathouse right on campus is unlike most other campuses,” said David Hall, assistant coach. “I feel honored to be a part of this environment.”
Hall started rowing in eighth grade, after trying other sports such as soccer.
“I went down to the local rowing practice and fell in love with it and rode the five years straight from eighth grade through high school.” He began coaching during his undergrad at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is now in his first year serving a collegiate post at UTK, alongside head coach Lisa Glenn. “The resources are so plentiful, and the athletes are strong. And the staff is remarkable,” he said.
Unlike most campus athletic programs, the rowing team accepts and welcomes walk-ons, many of whom may not be familiar with the sport before deciding to try out. Hall said the program recruits athletes from across the country who rowed in high school, but also recruits new students on campus.
“Those athletes don’t have to have any experience whatsoever. We prefer them to be naturally athletic, hardworking, competitive, goal-oriented, and to work as a team.”
Two squads makeup the Lady Vols rowing program: a novice squad for beginners and walk-ons, and a varsity squad for more experienced members.
Sydney Pardy, a senior team member, initially had no rowing experience.
“I went to the interest meetings, learned a little bit more about the sport because I didn’t know much about it, and then went to the two weeks of tryouts,” she said. “I made the team and just continued to show up, and here I am.”
In high school, Pardy participated in volleyball, basketball, soccer, and track, but was not involved in rowing until her sophomore year of college. Pardy said, “It was super exciting to see there’s another sport out there that’s going to push me and challenge me the same way that the other sports I was involved in did, but in new ways.”
Pardy was recruited on Pedestrian Walkway, and remains on the rowing team her senior year, having moved up from a novice to the varsity team after her first fall season.
Like other sports on campus, rowing can make heavy demands. During spring competition, there are typically two practices a day, Tuesdays through Sundays. Practices make for a long day for students, beginning as early as 6 a.m., followed by a regular school day and then another late afternoon practice that runs about three hours.
“Usually in competition season, you typically have to sacrifice your social life, because you’re traveling for athletics, nonstop,” Pardy said. “And then we’re really here for school…so you always have to sacrifice something, which is tough for some people to do.”
The team was also affected by COVID-19, especially in spring of 2020 when the pandemic first erupted. Pardy had tried out just the fall before and even got moved from novice to varsity at the beginning of the spring season. “They told us we all had to go home, which was really crazy, because I had just started and I just felt like I was picking up momentum and learning the sport a little bit better,” she recalled. “We had to start wearing masks while we were out on the water training so that challenges your breathing.”
The intensity and demands of rowing are offset by the benefits of being on a team.
“It it is a challenge… having to be in sync with every person, in order to accomplish a goal together is really cool,” Pardy said. “To me, I think that’s really beautiful that you have to work so together in order to…beat a certain time to beat a certain team or to win a certain race or anything like that.”
The Lady Vols rowing team practices during the fall and spring seasons on the Tennessee River adjacent to Neyland Drive at sun up and in the evenings before the sun goes down.