EARLYSVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- This is the week the Virginia rowing team has been working for all year. The Wahoos left early Tuesday morning for California, and this weekend's three-day NCAA Championships.
For junior Allie Nicholson, this will be her first experience at NCAAs.
"Actually, a lot of the time, I really have to take a step back and think, wow. I'm so luck to be a part of this program," Nicholson admitted Monday afternoon, before the Cavaliers' final home practice of the season. "And I am so glad that I listened to Kevin, and took his offer to come."
Nicholson was being recruited by some DIvision III volleyball programs as a senior at nearby St. Anne's-Belfield School in 2012. But an opportunity to row for UVA -- then the defending national champion -- was an opportunity she couldn't pass up, and Nicholson signed with the Wahoos despite having zero experience in the sport.
"It's a little bit of a roll of the dice. We don't know if she's got an engine or not. A volleyball player, we don't know if she's got an engine, which you need for rowing," UVA head coach Kevin Sauer said Monday. "For her, more of a leap of faith, like, 'What am I getting into here?' This new sport, never done this before."
"I had never been on an (ergometer) before. I had never been in a boat before," Nicholson said. "I had to learn not only how to move the boat well, but I had to learn how to do it in tune with everybody else. And it was completely different from volleyball, and it was very scary at first."
Now Nicholson is part of UVA's Second Varsity Eight that won a conference title earlier this month, and helped the program claim its seventh straight ACC team title. And Sauer said that Nicholson was named the program's most improved rower at the team's banquet this season.
"I feel like this year, I've kind of made some pretty big improvements, just in terms of figuring it all out, getting the fitness," Nicholson said.
"That's the biggest jump, from second to the third year. This year. Just gaining confidence in what she's able to do," said Sauer. "She's got the ability to do something that's really special, and she's really showing that this year."
Three years ago, Nicholson had no rowing experience. Now she says she has no regrets.
"I definitely think that I'm meant to be at UVA, and I definitely think that I'm meant to be rowing, and it's been such an amazing experience. My best friends are on the team," Nicholson said. "I think I've just very much surprised myself, a lot, and kind of exceeded my expectations of where I can go with this sport. And I'm just really excited for what's to come."