The sun is barely kissing the waters of Lake Pickett. It's nearly pitch black. The lake is barely awake, as are most at 6 a.m. on a Monday, but the UCF women's rowing team is slicing the waters of Lake Pickett like a hot knife to butter, just like it does nearly every morning.
Last year, the team took home second in the American Athletic Competition Championships, but this season, on May 16, 2015, the team hopes to take first now that Louisville — the team it lost to last year — is in a new conference.
"I think we need to become more relentless," head coach Becky Cramer said of what the team needs to do to reach the goal of coming out on top. "We're exactly where we need to be right now, we just need to be more relentless competitors and hungrier. By putting in the miles and work, it'll make it so important [that] nothing will stand in our way."
There are already signs of that hunger among some rowers, such as sophomore Spanish and French major Lauren Aiello.
"We need to come up stronger than we did last year," Aiello said. "We got great results, [but] we need to look back [and] develop. We're in a different conference and with different teammates. We need to all be on the same page."
But among all that needs to happen, Cramer said victory is wholly possible for this team.
"It's within our realm of reality to be able to win," Cramer said. "There are definitely some challenging opponents, some fast teams, so it won't be easy to win, but it is absolutely achievable."
If the team comes out on top at the AAC, it'll get an automatic bid to the NCAA National Championships, where only its first- and second-varsity eight boats and its varsity four boats will compete.
But the road to victory requires dedicated training that begins way before competition season.
From Mondays to Fridays, the team practices on Lake Pickett from 6 a.m. to 9 a .m. and on Saturdays, it practices from 7 a .m. to 11 a.m. During those practices, it will circle the 5,000-meter lake roughly three or four times in three boats, aptly named Knightmare, Knightro and Charge On.
Boat lineups consist of either eight or four rowing members and one non-rowing member, called the coxswain, who is responsible for safety, steering and motivation for the team.
After the arranging and the dynamic warm-ups, Cramer and varsity assistant coach Conny Kirsch meet with the coxswains to discuss lineups. After that, it's off to the waters to run drills.
During competition season, normally in the spring, there are three boats with eight rowers and one coxswain, and three boats with four rowers and one coxswain, with the varsity-eight boat including the best rowers. From there the team arrange rowers into the second-varsity eight, the varsity-four, the second-varsity four, the third-varsity eight and then finally the third-varsity four boats.
In the competitions, each first-, second-, or third-varsity eight or four boat competes against one or a handful of other similarly ranked boats from other schools, first in time trials and then in final competitions.