Competitive Field Awaits Ray and Partner Grace Joyce • By Nick Gandy
Occupying the front or stroke seat of the lightweight double sculls boat, Liza Ray, one of three USRowing team members from Florida, can’t see much of what’s going on with her opponents in the 2000-meter races at the 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championships being held at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota/Bradenton.
While concentrating on her strokes and technique, she relies on “race calls” from her partner Grace Joyce.
In their preliminary heat on Thursday, Ray and Joyce were running neck-and-neck with the Denmark team of Katrine Line Olsen and Marie Moerch-Pederson in second and third place, separated by one second or less for the first 1500 meters.
The Chinese team of Xiaoyue Fu and Jiawang Zou got off to an early lead, ahead by two seconds after reaching the 1000 meter mark. As the race progressed, the tower announce team providing play-by-play speculated whether or not the lead team could keep its pace during the final 500-meter homestretch.
“We had a very clean start and about the 600-meter mark we executed a sprint a little earlier than expected,” said Ray, who lived in Tallahassee during elementary and middle school years before moving to Miami for her high school years at MAST Academy. “For the second 500 meters, we did a “Power 10,” where you refocus and scull harder with more technical precision, through the 1K mark.”
The move knocked a second off of the Chinese team’s lead but the Danish team was still alongside Ray and Joyce at the 1500-meter mark.
“With about 200 meters left, I heard my partner call ‘Liza, please,’ Ray said. “Because I couldn’t see across to the other lanes, I knew something was happening on the course.”
Ray and Joyce had pushed their stroke rate up to 40-42 strokes per minute, according to Ray. That push allowed the team to surpass the Chinese boat, but not catch the Denmark team, and move directly to the 'A' Final on Sunday, as one of the top two finishers in the race, with a time of 7:09.520.
Their competition on Sunday will be a tough field, including teams from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Ireland and The Netherlands. The Swiss team won the second heat of the lightweight double sculls event with a time of 6:59.780, a 10-second difference from the U.S. team’s second place finish.
With Ray and Joyce being paired together recently for the World Rowing Under 23 Championships, she admits the team is at a slight disadvantage.
“A lot of those crews actually represent their senior-level team,” Ray says. “These countries we’re racing against row their boats year round. They have the opportunity to practice and row with their partner year round. Grace and I go to different schools (Liza attends Columbia and Grace attends Wisconsin) where we sweep row with one oar during the year. Each school has a very different program with different styles. We have a very short period of time to work together in a different boat class.”
While their coach, Grace Hollowell, agrees Ray and Joyce haven't been in a boat together for as long as some of their competition, she describes the duo as tenacious, driven and hard working.
“They’re both really resilient and have given a lot of effort this summer,” said Hollowell, who coaches the lightweight sculls team for USRowing and at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont, where Ray and Joyce have been training. “They both have good experience from last year’s Under 23 championship team to rely on against the competition in the 'A' Final tomorrow.”
With two full days between the preliminary heat and the 'A' Final, Ray and Joyce have spent time on the water practicing both days. On Saturday, the team went through a “race walk through,” where they navigated the full 2000-meter course at nearly full speed, while making race calls.
“We went through the full race to see what we might expect to happen in different parts of the race,” she said. “It wasn’t perfect but it gives us something to think about for the rest of the day.”
Following the Under 23s, Ray will return to Columbia University for her senior season as the team captain and is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2020 with a degree in psychology.
Now 22, Ray has experienced quite a few cultures, living in Russia, Finland, Tallahassee and Miami, and now in New York City. She learned to speak English in third grade, while living in Tallahassee, and ran on cross-country teams through Middle School. It wasn’t until she moved to Miami that she began rowing for the MAST Academy, located on an island on the Rickenbacker Causeway, since the school didn’t offer a cross-country team.
“The Miami Rowing Club was literally right across the fence from my school and my mom got me started with the team,” she said. “I spent every summer here at this park training while I was in high school in Miami.”
With her training and experiences on the water over the last few years, Ray and Joyce will be guiding their boat to the medal stand as one of the top three teams in the world after Sunday’s 'A' Finals Race scheduled to start at 11:05 a.m.
On the final day of competition at the 2019 Under 23 World Championships, races begin at 8:30 a.m. with 'A' Finals Races and Awards presentations beginning at 9:40 a.m. The final race is scheduled to start at 12:20 p.m. For more information visit worldunder23.com or worldrowing.com.