Henley Information and Coaches Take

Grand Valley Rowing is headed to Henley-On-Thames, England for the oldest rowing event in the world.

July 3, 2008
Mark McIlduff, Graduate Assistant Men’s Coach

Last night’s draw posting listed our race time as 5:30pm against Shrewsbury College. This meant a later than expected race time for the guys, but also provided the eight an opportunity to have a practice in the morning with a new rig. The 7:00am practice time approached quick, and I awoke to John singing to wake the guys up. I decided to run alongside the crew as they practiced on the Thames. As they rowed over the course I thought that they looked as sharp as they have since being here. Following the paddle, the team returned home for breakfast and a nap.

The late start time also provided myself and my spare partner Justin the chance to head down to the course for the morning/afternoon races. A generous gift from the Thames Rowing Club coach allowed both of us admittance into the ‘Stewards Enclosure’. We put on our Sunday’s best and walked to the course around 11:00am. I took in the sights and sounds of the regatta elite around me as races proceeded by…”They are defeating them quite easily, how discouraging”…”Outstanding match!”…”Great effort by both crews, too bad one will meet defeat”. Each conversation I overheard was spoken with an elegance and purpose I wasn’t used to. It was such an amazing experience to be immersed in this culture at this prestigious regatta.

As the start time approached, I headed over to the boat bay to help John as he made some final adjustments. The energy from the morning swing row must have carried over to the evening because the guys had a determination on their face rarely seen. After they shoved off, I headed back to the enclosure. I took my seat along the river and waited nervously for the start. The enclosure is more of a social event than a sporting event. It is difficult to put into words, but the experience is more wedding reception than rowing regatta. People are busying themselves at the bars or with conversation…it is easy to become distracted as races approach. As the announcer was updating the status of our race, I quickly realized that I was sitting with the Shrewsbury College contingent. Not one to be out done, I cheered the guys as loudly as I could as they rowed by in the lead. Following the finish it was nice to have the chance to chat with the Shrewsbury followers. They congratulated us on our race and wished us good luck in the quarterfinals (they also promised to become our top supporters…although the gentlemen from Leeds University have been holding that honor from the start of the regatta).

We all met up at the boat bay to discuss the race and the strategy heading into to tomorrow’s match race with Trinity College. Everyone’s spirits are high and I think we will have a good showing against the ECAC champion eight. The draw has us racing at 10:00am (5:00am est) Friday morning, a time these guys are more used to.

July 2, 2008
Denny McLean, Asst. Coordinator of Student Life Sports

I’m so sorry I left you hanging after telling you about speaking the with the elderly ladies on the bus. They are incredibly wonderful to talk to. One of these ladies spoke about her son who used to row and how her and her recently deceased husband used to attend the regatta faithfully. She said that she wouldn’t be attending this year but her son would be coming in for the weekend. We would end this conversation with her explaining where she lived in an 18th century cottage. I would look over at our bus driver Allen who also had a huge smile on his face when Mrs. M departed. Allen told me that I probably made her week. She just loved to talk about her family and where she lived. Pretty cool eh!

Don’t tell anyone but on my way home from the river every day, I stop into one of the pubs located along my route home. It seems I have that accent that everyone wants to hear more of. Talk about a beer turning into an hour conversation!! Ok maybe two beers, but thats it.

Everyone wants to know what university I’m from and where it is located. Did you know that Grand Valley now can be mentioned in the same breath as Harvard, Cornell, Oxford, Cambridge. So how prestigious do you want to be? It is an incredible thing what this rowing team will do for a university. I’m so proud to wear my golf shirts with Grand Valley State University on them. Oh, by the way, what colour does Harvard wear? I’m grinning but I’ve been this way since I left Lowell a week and a day ago.

Have you ever just wanted to walk down some small alley way and see what’s at the end of it? This little town is filled with open gates that allow you to do just that. Today I went down one. A lady at the end of it looked up while sweeping her stoop and said,” You don’t look like the milk man”. I laughed and told her I was just a tourist from the America’s. To which she replied, “ Hope you enjoy yourself” This is awesome stuff.

So after my little exploring I made my way in to another “hole in the wall pub” I bellied up to the bar and the bar maid came a running. Out of breath she muttered, “An what would you have darlin” in her awesome British accent. “May I have a pint of whatever you think I’d enjoy. She poured me an Ale that was to die for. “ Would you like to have anything to eat?” I nodded and told her that a plate of fish and chips looked like the fare of the day. With a great big smile on her face she told me to sit down and she would ready my dinner. I sat down and the whole time my head was turning looking at my surroundings. I’m thinking to myself, is this a place of history or what? Old beams spanned the overhead and I honestly think that if our rowers came in here they would have to bend over while standing at the bar. Those fierce warriors of days gone by couldn’t have been too tall. But then again it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog. Well, dinner has arrived! Oh my God does this look awesome! She stood over me for a few seconds and made sure I took a hearty bite. She then asked me how our rowers did. To which I replied that we had won our first race. “Oh” she said, “That deserves another pint” I gratiously accepted and enjoyed this meal like non other on the trip so far. I guess the win and the hospitality just came hand in hand. When I was about to leave the three people I believe who were working, all came up to me with huge smiles on their faces and wished me and the team good luck. I told them I’d be back hopefully with a few of the boys. They said they would look forward to that. You know what? I know they will.

July 1, 2008
Denny McLean, Asst. Coordinator of Student Life Sports

Denny also serves as the Head Coach of the Grand Valley Hockey Club. He is on the trip serving as house master and Honourary Assistant Rowing Coach for the week.

Well I’m sitting here on Day 7 doing a wee bit of reflection and with so many great great experiences I really don’t know where to start. Well let me give it a shot. We are living in a quaint little 3 bedroom cottage about a mile and half from the river. Think about this for a minute. Here we have twelve grown men and a young lady, who despite her size still can rule the roost. We have one shower, one and a half bathrooms and a 10 by 12 living room that houses six people sitting down watching the telly. Wimbledon is the program of choice. To the rear of the TV room lies our large dining table (its really not that large). This huge room is divided by French doors that lead into another smaller dining area and our kitchen. At the entrance to the cottage is the half bath, which I thank my lucky stars for because that morning line into the main bathroom upstairs could wreak havock with this old plumbing of mine. Ok manipulate this tribe in these confines!

We are doing it thank you very much and in fine colour I must admit. Talk about team work. Talk about manners. Talk about individuals that will do anything to help out. Talk about asking others to jump in and never a complaint made after.

I miss my family in a huge way but being around these folks laughing and challenging each other and watching the focus of why we are here in the first place makes this one of the most enjoyable trips of my life.

In retrospect I am pretty lucky though. With the help of Skype, an internet phone service, I am able to converse with my family via video and phone. Its an incredible thing. I look forward to seeing them every day.

Let me take you on the journey down to the river. From our cottage we walk up a small path that exits on to the main roadway. This leads back into town. If I would rather turn left I can walk about the length of a football field and stand at the gates of George Harrison’s former estate. Its gated and mere words can really not describe how incredibley beautiful it is. Completely breathtaking. Ok back to the task at hand. Let’s walk to the river. This roadway that we are walking winds itself between buildings that were built in the early 1800’s. Yes, like 1857, a malt house with everything updated except for the inscription on one of the blocks. Incredible! Oh by the way. The area between these buildings are a mere 15 feet and in some cases all the way down to maybe 10 feet. Now put a walk way along the side of this road and that is how we get down to the river. Don’t worry about us though its a way of life around here and we feel no jeopardy as we go along. At the bottom of our hill is a small pub called the Victoria and across the street from this frequent is the town hall which stands attention to the town square. The square takes a whole city block but it is surrounded by little shops and eateries. We continue toward the river where we are met by an absolutely incredible sight. The protestant Church. It sits along side the river with an Old Inn kneeling right in front of it. The Henley bridge crosses here and again we cross on a sidewalk that isn’t any larger than the width of me. I actually have to turn a wee bit sideways to allow people to move beside me. Oh ya again the cars are so close that we can smell the driver’s breath. As we get off the bridge and turn to our left we now have reached our destination. The race area is guarded by the most storied and successful rowing team’s boathouse, The Leander House. Its totally awesome. Generations of rowing, storied pictures of. regattas past. Unreal!

Now the eyes open up to the modern sights of readying competition. What a sight this is. Even this is hard to describe. So many clubs, schools, universities here to compete and show off this years production of their own champions. There must be 30 boats in front of ten massive tents that house the stored boats. Every one pitching in to ready the boat for their practice on the river. This is truly something to behold.

I have already told my wife I’d move here in a second.

I do this trip and experience what I have described everyday. But this all changes too. I pop my head into shops. I stop at banks. I talk to everyone on the street that wants to talk. I jump on buses and have them take me to all the places that the home folk just take for granted. Even the bus driver and myself are on a first name basis. I start conversations with the elderly ladies on the bus and boy do you find things out about this town.

June 29, 2008
Mark McIlduff, Graduate Assistant Men’s Coach

We gave the team the morning off today so they could have a chance to tour the Henley area. After sleeping in later than they have all week, the guys got up to eat some breakfast and set off to the Rowing and River Museum. It was my third time visiting, and every time I see something new and interesting. For instance, today I read about how the Stewards Challenge Cup (Coxless four) came to be at the Henley Royal Regatta. Apparently, a crew entered in the coxed four instructed their coxswain to jump out on command. They wanted to prove that a coxswain was not needed on the Henley course and that the four would go much faster without. They won by a mile and were later disqualified…years later the coxless four Stewards Challenge Cup was an event at Henley…Awesome!

After the tour, John and I headed to the river to rig up a new boat. The ‘Norman E. Guiver’, a 2007 Resolute, became available after Abingdon School ‘B’ was eliminated in qualifications so we jumped on it. With help from Coach Wes, the assistant coach and boat man from Shawnigan Lake, the eight was rigged and ready to go for the 4:30pm practice. As John put it, “This boat required some major surgery”. Receiving help from Coach Wes is just an example of the generosity coaches and rowers have displayed at this regatta. Everyone I have met has been more than willing to chat and help out in any way they could. From rigging to training information, it has been a great learning experience to be around some of the world’s best coaches and oarsmen.

As the men’s eight made some final adjustments to their new shell, I headed out in the pair with Justin Ott. We have been training together since the final selection for the eight was made and have entered ourselves into the Jesus College Spares Pairs Race held on Tuesday morning at 10:00am on the Henley race course (I am eligible to compete since I am enrolled in graduate studies at GVSU). Things are coming together well and I am excited to see how we will do. To be honest, I am in awe at the fact that I will be competing for a trophy at the Henley Royal Regatta. I can’t wait to tell my college teammates about this experience as I am sure they won’t believe it either.

This evenings row went great for ourselves and the eight. Between dodging the seemingly thousands of motor boats and rowing through the never ending wake they throw off, I was able to catch a glimpse of the varsity eight as they rowed by. These guys are ready to go. The boat looked as fast as it has all year as they took off for a few practice starts against Southampton University tonight. They were rowing well in the new shell and had more run than ever. I can’t wait to see how they do Wednesday against Warwick University, but for now I am going to rest up and get ready for my race..Awesome!

June 28, 2008
Denny McLean, Asst. Coordinator of Student Life Sports

Denny also serves as the Head Coach of the Grand Valley Hockey Club. He is on the trip serving as house master and Honourary Assistant Rowing Coach for the week. This entry reflects on his experience thus far and the team’s trip to London on June 27th.

Well, my morning came very early, to the tune of 4:00AM. I had forgotten to attach the battery pack on the camera for recharging. Don’t let these guys down Denny. Get up and make sure everything is ready for this upcoming day.

Its going to be a great day.

First comes the rowing practice against Shawnigan Lake School. Then a quick shower and cleanup and head to London via the Tube. Its going to be a long day as well. But let’s focus our attention on Shawnigan Lake. For those you that do not know me (which is most of you), I was born in Victoria BC Canada. I grew up with two world renowned rowing schools in my back yard. One of those being Brentwood Boys School and the other was none other than Shawnigan Lake School. Give me a break!! Are you kidding me! I travel 4000 miles and who do we row against first. This school from my home town. The Canadian School Boy Champions. During a meeting we had the night before, Coach Bancheri brought up the dual between our two schools. He told everyone that this was going to be a terrific test on where we are right now. Looking around I think everyone is totally unaware of what we are up against. I thought to myself these guys are so cool under pressure. Nothing fazes them. Coach gave me an opportunity to address everyone and I hope I put a charge into them because this is going to be a huge test. Its also going to be one of those races where everyone at the Regatta practicing will now know about the race between the two of us. We must impress!! WE DID!! Great start to our day.

I need to take a bit of a step back here for a second. I want everyone to understand what we have here at Grand Valley. We have an incredible coaching staff that is totally respected by programs that we look at as the powers in the sport of rowing. Trinity University, Columbia University both storied programs that today both conveyed to me how far our program has come in such a short time. What a great tribute to our coaches and Student athletes. You make our University Shine!

London calling! We took the train from Henley and transferred to another at Twyford. We finally arrived in London ready to attach its most famous attractions. Unfortunately a lung condition has slowed me down as far as my touring walks are concerned. I think I drove Coach out of his mind having to wait all the time for me. It was a wee bit embarrassing but hey nothing I can do. I just have to take some time. He was awesome. He even suggested we head more toward Paddington, so that I wouldn’t have to walk as far.

You know? This guy is awesome.

I ended the day leaving London before everyone and having a little time on the train to reflect.

I can’t thank this program enough for this experience. What a great way to learn some valuable techniques for our hockey program. Its an incredible way for me to get to know more gifted athletes. I truly do mean it when I say that we really do put ourselves above so many programs just because of how classy we really are.

I can’t wait till tomorrow.

June 27, 2008
John Bancheri, Director of Rowing

Paddington Station, London, UK

As I sit here waiting to meet the crew for our return train trip to Henley from our day in the city I thought, “Wow, what a great day”. In one day we had the opportunity to scrimmage, seat race, make final selection, ride the train into London and visit some of the most famous landmarks in the world. I have to tell you the most fun I had was just walking the streets and watching the people. The buses, taxis and the hustle and bustle of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world was interesting and for me, simply exciting. One of the most interesting things though I found was in news print. The newspapers here are ruthless! They do not pull any punches and they seem to revel in the fact that they can cut anyone down to their knees. I guess that is just British tradition (I know a few people back in the states that could fit in well).

This morning I witnessed courage, determination and sticktoitiveness (is that a word?). We had a chance to do four 500 meter pieces with Shawnigan Lake (a 5:55/2K) Prep School and Canadian Schoolboy Champions. I won’t discuss the details as I hope you will get that from our junior 7 seat Blake Donovan and his journal. What I will say is this, that #1 never give up your seat, #2 never ever quit (once you do it becomes easier the next time you are challenged) and #3 always give a guy that is willing to fight and earn his spot another chance. The two guys that fought for the final spot today did just that, they fought. Everyone performed and did a great job improving their boat speed over the course of the 4 races. The boys worked hard for the opportunity to represent GVSU in the Temple Cup at Henley next week. Both men who were racing for the final seat could have at any point easily given up, made an excuse, blamed the coach, blamed others. They did not! They looked into themselves and fought for every stroke to help the boat go one seat faster every stroke. In the end we chose the fastest crew we could which was also the crew that earned a bronze medal at the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) Collegiate Club National Championships in Oklahoma City last month. This is without question the fastest crew and the flagship of the Grand Valley State University.

In the 36 years I have been involved in rowing (28 as a coach). I have seen many talented athletes do very well and some talented athletes under perform. The one thing I have seen that is consistent with the best athletes that I have had the honor to coach, THEY NEVER EVER GAVE UP, THEY NEVER QUIT! These guys are WINNERS and I know they will push their blades as fast as they are capable every stroke and as for results….we’ll worry about that later. For now, we are enjoying a fantastic time here in the UK, going faster and rowing sharper every outing and most importantly celebrating a great year that we developed as a crew over the past 10 months of training.

Finally, I remember this quote from a famous coach, “The purpose of coaching is to improve athletic performance”. Everyone of these boys in our flagship have learned to be fighters (perhaps something they learned long ago when their parents taught them to stand on their own two feet), they have improved their performance and the crew has improved its speed. I am proud of my contribution to the Laker Navy and look forward to continue its improvement for both our men’s and women’s varsity crews in the coming years.

Go Lakers!

June 26, 2008
Mark McIlduff, Graduate Assistant Men’s Coach

Today the guys got settled into the house and tried to finish up adjusting to the time difference. John and I headed down to the course to finish up rigging the 2005 Resolute Midweight eight we are borrowing for the training and regatta. The ‘Commander Jackson’ had quite a few more adjustments needed, but John was satisfied enough to send the men out for their practice.

JB sent out to follow along the guys on the bicycle we purchsed in town. He said, “I had a fantastic day just riding alongside and coaching from the same path that Steve Fairbairn and Harry Mann once rode.” While John coached the men’s eight, I headed out in a pair to row with the spare athlete, working on technique and sharpening skills. We may even get into a scrap later in the week.

The men focused mainly on drills and making slight adjustments to the new shell, throwing in a few starts and speed work in the morning. In the afternoon, they headed out again to further sharpen their skill set. Denny McLean, the Assistant Coordinator of Student Life Sports, stood along the shore and had a chance to speak to several athletes from around the world…some of them commenting positively on the GVSU eight as they rowed by.

Coach John spoke of today, “My good friend Michael Thompson (Head coach of the Women’s Canadian U-23 team) told me that this would be a great experience. Being here has surpassed my wildest dreams. I have dreamt about being a part of this regatta since watching schools like Holy Spirit and my alma matter Atlantic City High send eights over when I was growing up. Watching the guys row on the Thames River today and improve their focus and speed with every stroke was one of the proudest moments of my coaching career.”

Tomorrow the flagship of the Laker Navy will have the chance to do some training pieces against Shawnigan Lake from British Columbia, Canada. Coincidently, Denny grew up in British Columbia on the same lake they train out of. The Shawnigan Lake eight is the reigning champion of the Canadian Schoolboy National Championships that was rowed earlier this month. The Lakers will use this scrap to make the final selection for the eight to represent Grand Valley at the Henley Royal Regatta.

Updated: 6/23/2008
The Men have been drawn to enter into he field of 32 in the Temple Challenge Cup without having to go through the qualifying rounds.

Information about the draw may be found at:


The Team has been named:

Henley Women’s Regatta
Women’s Senior Eight Oared Shell with Coxswain

1 – Kelli O’Brien – Jr. Saginaw, MI
2 – Alexandra Vander Ark – So. Byron Center, MI
3- Kendra Socks – So. Rochester Hills, MI
4- Kelsey Arnold – Fr. Hudsonville, MI
5- Katie Phelan – So. Jackson, MI
6- Katelin Steigenga – Jr. Spring Lake, MI
7- Samantha Morgan – So. Clarkston, MI
8 – Sarah Zelenka – Jr. Itasca, IL

Cox – Katie Higgins – So. Pinckney, MI
Spare – Olachoa Nwabara – Grad Student and Asst. Coach Chicago, Il

Henley Royal Regatta
The Temple Challenge Cup for Eight Oared Shells

1- Adam Cecil – Jr. Grosse Ile, MI
2- Thomas Beebe – So. Grand Haven, MI
3- Breck Davis – So. Portage, MI
4- Jeffrey Slater – Jr. Cedarville, MI
5- Ryan League- So. Grosse Pointe Woods, MI
6- Eddie Eisenhauer – So. Grand Blanc, MI
7- Blake Donovan – Jr. Brighton, MI
8 – Geoff Sadek – Jr. Grand Rapids, MI

Cox- Lisa Malloure – Sr. Farmington Hills, MI
Spare: Justin Ott – Jr. Goshen, IN

Travel Staff:


Coach Bob Stanage (2nd Year)
Coach Ola Nwabara (1st Year)
Coach Mark McIlduff (2nd Year)
Chaperones: Mr. and Mrs. Duke Vander Ark


Coach John M. Bancheri, Head Coach (3rd Year)
Administrator: Denis McLean, Assistant Coordinator of Student Life Sports

Coach Keith Bouwman (4th Year)


Please make sure you have your USA passport information in order!

Practice will begin this Sunday, June 1 at 6:30pm at the boathouse.

Daily practice will start on the water Mon – Fri at 4:15 – 6:15am.

PM practice will be in small boats on own as scheduled:
(open boathouse 4-8pm)

Saturday as scheduled. Most likely 6-8am. PM OFF
Sundays – OFF

Download the Itinerary

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The Grand Valley State University Rowing Club challenges its student-athletes to reach the highest level to which they aspire both academically and athletically, while continuing to build and sustain a nationally competitive intercollegiate rowing program.

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