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LU Voyageurs recruit promising young rower

Abbey Maillet will just get better, said coach Amanda Schweinbenz
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Abbey Maillet, seen here during her high school years, has joined the Laurentian Voyageurs' rowing squad. (Supplied/hwcdsb.ca)

It's the start of a new school year and, truth be told, there's a whole lot of new in the life of Laurentian Voyageurs' rowing coach Amanda Schweinbenz as well.

Sure, some of the newness is traditional, as is the case with the influx of freshman talent to her team, a varsity grouping that more than doubled in size, with five new females added to the roster, including Team Ontario U19 member Abbey Maillet.

But some of the new ground being broken was not as foreseen, as is the case for the naming of Schweinbenz as one of two mentor coaches with Row Ontario, joining forces with Olympian Michelle Darvill in guiding a younger wave of coaches who are working with the provincial U17 and U19 programs.

Just beginning her studies in the Sport & Physical Education (Concurrent Education) program at L.U., Maillet has already began to envision the genesis of her continued growth in the sport of rowing, now that she has made the move from her hometown of Dundas, to Sudbury.

"I feel that just going to the weight room a lot more, I will get stronger, and also being on the erg," stated the 18 year-old eldest of two children in the family (her younger brother, Jacob, was a second round pick of the Guelph Storm in the 2019 OHL draft).

"I think having Amanda as a new coach will definitely give me some new technical things to work on."

The product of a highly athletic family environment - she would compete in soccer, basketball, track and field, cross-country, flag football and volleyball during her time at St Mary Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton - Maillet had long-since decided where her long-term sporting passion would lie.

"I started rowing when I was going into Grade 7, very young," she said. "We lived near the bay and I was always down there, as a kid. Once I started watching people row, I knew that it was something I wanted to do."

Understandably, there is much less common knowledge, within the general population, regarding the entry level for the sport of rowing, compared to the awareness that might exist towards the more mainstream pastimes of hockey, soccer and basketball.

"I started with a Learn to Row program and we went on the erg for a bit, learning the motion," recollected Maillet. "From there, we went out on the boat, not necessarily moving fast, but just feeling comfortable."

"I really did not start training on the erg until I was in high school. By Grade 9, I knew that rowing was my sport. I am a perfectionist and always want to have that perfect stroke. I work so hard to achieve it."

Yet there were other factors in play, factors that helped this very driven young women to be selected for the Ontario Team which travelled to Winnipeg/Kenora, site of the 2018 Canada Summer Games.

"I know that if you are in any sport, you probably have heart," she said. "But I think that my heart sets me apart from some people, having that ability to keep pushing and get this far. I will notice it in the last 750 metres or so of the race."

"That's when you hit that wall and have to push through it. I know that I can push it, that we train to push it, but I feel that the little extra push has to come from inside."

As for the move north, Maillet cited a handful of key influencers when it came to making her choice on a preferred post-secondary destination. "I really like the fact that it's a small university," she said. "My high school was small."

"I felt that I would feel comfortable in that setting. I just think it's beautiful up here. I'm very outdoorsy, so I feel that Laurentian really matches my interest."
Schweinbenz, for one, is excited.

"She's not going to be the fastest lightweight in the country heading into OUA's this season," stated the Hamilton native and Laurentian coach who has called Sudbury home since 2006. "We're looking at a long-term investment, to help her develop and progress.

"If we can get her just a little bit faster every year, then she will ultimately be one the fastest in the country. She has such a good work ethic."

Of course, it won't hurt to have as your guiding force a coach who had already been tapped to assist on both a national and international stage, prior to jumping into this latest adventure with her provincial sport organization.

"I really believe in what Row Ontario is doing," said Schweinbenz. "Michelle (Darvill) and I are working together to help guide the coaches through the steps, facilitating conversations, suggesting different ways to approach racing."

As she sees it, there are ample practical settings in which the younger coaches can benefit from the experience of the two mentors. "You're getting athletes, and you have only a few days with them," explained Schweinbenz.

"How do you create a rapport? How do you manage expectations? How do you figure out, fairly quickly, what you can do to help your athlete in racing? It's going to be really fun."

There's also a willingness to draw from the situation that allows Schweinbenz to recognize that her new young protegees can provide an environment where the mentor might learn from the student.

"I think the possibilities are limitless, because you never really know what you're going to learn, which is exciting," she said. "Whether it's new ways to use technology, new ways to interact with younger athletes, better use of social media, what your club does to help prepare for a regatta."

"It's never right or wrong," Schweinbenz added. "It's shades, and I think there's some really cool stuff we're going to be able to learn."

Cool and fun and new - just like the start of another school year.

In addition to Abbey Maillet, Laurentian returns Olympic hopeful Charles Alexander and national contender Hayley Chase to the fold, as well as welcoming first year varsity team members Emma Dockray, Mackenzie Anderson, Brady Martin and Alexi Lamb.




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