For the third consecutive year, the University of California women's rowing team spent a four day training session at Bass Lake in mid-May.
The team went on to the May 27 and 28 NCAA Championships on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., placing third in the national finales behind second place Michigan and Virginia. Last year, the team finished fifth.
The USC coach, Zenon Babraj, used to bring his San Diego State men's team to train at Bass Lake before becoming the USC women's coach, and his training retreats have been encouraged by Bass Lake resident Bill Troost, a former USC rowing crew member.
"Coach Babraj uses the trip to Bass Lake as a reward to his team for all the hard work they put in during the season and also likes training at Bass Lake because of the elevation.
"Having his athletes train at a significantly higher altitude that they are used to, stretches the endurance and stamina of the team," Troost said.
A big fan of rowing, Troost, 68, still rows daily on the lake May through October. The retired professor with the Los Angeles Community College District, Troost now serves as Vice Chancellor for Education at a start-up college in Valley Springs.
Troost gets the honor of riding in the spotter barge with Babraj when the team is on the lake, providing him the opportunity to witness first hand good teaching, rowing and coaching.
"Watching the team practice on Bass Lake brings back very fond memories of my day's in competition," Troost said. "This team has great determination and all the girls are very self motivated. The team defeated all PAC 12 rowing powers this past season including Cal, Washington and Stanford."
Troost said Babraj is an excellent recruiter and has brought many promising athletes from Europe.
"Most importantly he is a very encouraging mentor and uses positive guidance," Troost said.
Troost said that most college athletes lose their ties with the school after graduation but that is not the case at USC.
"In the Trojan family, we know we are Trojans for life," Troost proudly said.
On the USC website, Babraj called USC's fourth place finish at the NCAA championships "a great day for USC women's rowing."
Story of strength
In rowing, a coxswain's ability is not measured by physical strength but rather by having the tools to lead through commands. Often known as the master of the vessel, the coxswain is the strategic voice that guides a rowing team through competitive waters.
For the USC women's rowing team that voice has come from five-foot Dionne Licudine over the past three years and finishing her senior year with the team looked bleak back on Feb. 3 when the leader found herself in a fight for her life.
"I went to the hospital that night complaining of severe abdominal and back pain," Licudine recalled. "I was admitted a short time later for what was supposed to be a simple surgery since they told me I had gallbladder disease. But, it didn't quite turn out that way."
After her initial surgery on Feb. 6, doctors came back with some bad news for Licudine, a native of Manila, Philippines. During the procedure, she had suffered major complications, including blood loss and massive internal bleeding. While initially the hospital believed blood transfusions would fix the issue, Licudine would eventually be rushed to the Intensive Care Unit for a second surgery. And on Feb. 10, a week after she first went in for a check-up, she went under the knife one final time to close up her abdomen and to make sure there was no other damage.
"I don't think we realized how serious it was at first," said Babraj. "When we head about major blood loss, it was clear to us that this wasn't just a question of whether she would return to rowing, this was a fight for her life," said Babraj. "It's moments like that where sports just don't matter much."
Further tests revealed that on top of gallbladder disease, Licudine suffered from kidney failure. She would not only be forced to stay under hospital care for two more weeks, but there was a serious possibility her rowing career was in danger.
After nearly a month in the hospital, Licudine was finally released in early March and just days after her release she traveled with the team to Sacramento for a preseason training camp.
Only a month removed from her month-long hospital stay, the senior was back in her traditional spot on the varsity eight person vessel at the San Diego Crew Classic. The team took home top honors for the second straight year with Licudine at the center of it all.
"The biggest thing I think I took away from the experience was the love and support I received from my teammates, coaches and USC athletic department," said Licudine.
Troost said Babraj has been encouraging to his idea of hosting a fall rowing event at Bass Lake
"The Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Yosemite Visitors Bureau and the Pines Resort have all expressed interest," Troost said. "I would urge other interested Mountain Area residents to contact me at (559) 642-3668."
-- Portions of story provided by USC sports information office and Dave Dulberg.