Head coach Kevin Sauer is in his 26th season leading the Virginia women’s rowing program. Sauer has guided the Cavaliers to NCAA Championships in 2010 and 2012, and 19 of 20 ACC Championships. Hoos Life caught up with Sauer to discuss the disappointment of losing the 2020 season, his volunteer work, winning a virtual championship and what he enjoys most about coaching.
Q: How have you handled the disappointment from the cancellation of the 2020 rowing season?
Sauer: It’s been really hard for the team members and staff, but I keep reminding myself that there are much more important issues impacting the country and world. When we have team Zoom meetings, it’s the same narrative, we recognize the loss and support people during this time but keep it all in perspective.
Q: You’ve been a longtime volunteer for Meals on Wheels, and you conducted deliveries during the pandemic. Why is that organization important to you?
Sauer: It is a way to help in the community. Normally, it is just an hour on Mondays delivering meals to people not able to get out on their own. During the pandemic, we have been delivering shelf-stable meals that last for two weeks so there is much less contact. Starting next week, we will go to daily delivery. The human interaction is very important, so the daily routes are the best. Truly, I have been impacted by doing (Meals on Wheels) more than any impact I have made.
Q: How have you and your coaching staff been able to stay connected to your team and coach them despite not having a season?
Sauer: We have had weekly Zoom meetings, but are not allowed to coach them in any fashion. We just talk about classes or exams and how they and their families are doing, Then we split the team into groups, so that each coach makes personal contact with each team member every week.
Q: You are starting your 26th season as head coach at Virginia and your wife, Barb, has been there every step of the way. How special was it that you and the team dedicated a boat in her honor this season?
Sauer: It is actually my 33rd season coming up including the club sport days! It means a tremendous amount to name a boat in honor of Barb. In fact, the kids initiated the boat naming. She has been beside me throughout my coaching career of 44 years and there is no way I could have done it without her. She has always made our home open to everyone on the team and our Survivor show nights are epic; even women on other teams know about them. Barb’s chocolate chip cookies are legendary across the country. A classic example is when we are loading the bus for away trips the team always asks if Barb is coming. They’re disappointed if I say she is not coming. I reply with “but I’m here!” and they just walk away and say “whatever!” Barb is also famous on the rowing circuit as the oar and shoe carrier at races, and at NCAAs or ACCs (championships) she keeps everyone up to date on the team points totals.
Q: The 2012 Virginia Varsity Eight won the virtual race competition organized by Row2k.com against the 2019 Washington Varsity Eight for Fastest NCAA V8 Champion. How important was winning that competition to you?
Sauer: Winning that virtual championship was important for that boat to be recognized as one of, if not the best Varsity Eight ever. But, the most important part was the tremendous support and belief in the program from alumni, parents and friends to get that many votes. There are a lot of people out there that care deeply about what we are doing.
Q: How does UVA Rowing define “Grit”?
Sauer: I think just a toughness and resilience to take anything on. The team is able to experience hard things and really respond in an amazing, positive way. That is grit.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the coaching profession and how have you been able to be so successful at Virginia?
Sauer: I enjoy helping people achieve their goals. For some, helping them formulate goals that they may have not realized were possible. Also, to empower them to be able to take on anything once they leave the program and be ready for the real world in ways not possible without being a part of this endeavor. I think success sometimes is just sticking with something to the end. A lot of people crumble when things get really hard and I’m fortunate to be able to not back down to challenges. It was really hard in the early days here, but I knew if we just kept working then something good would eventually happen. I also have been blessed with my faith, Barb, my kids, grandkids, great assistant coaches and student-athletes that I’m honored to have had the opportunity to coach.
Q: What makes the rowing community across the United States such a close group?
Sauer: When you are on the rowing team here, you make friends for life because it is such a hard sport, and so much work goes into it for virtually no recognition. I believe the same is true rower-to-rower across the country and actually in the world. There is a commonality of respect that if you do this sport, you are a different breed of cat, and that brings an understanding and closeness.
Q: What are the next steps for UVA rowing program as we enter the summer?
Sauer: We have sent a training plan for the summer and hopefully they all will do it!! Send a message to yourself and your teammates that you mean business when we return in the fall.
Q: Rowing is obviously a big passion for you. How long do you envision coaching, and could you ever see yourself doing something different professionally?
Sauer: I have no idea when that will be, but I want this program to be in a good place when I do retire. So, I want to make sure to go out when I’m still effective. I would have no clue what I would do if not coaching; any skillset I might have had is long gone!! Habitat for Humanity builds, and more Meals on Wheels routes are on my horizon for sure.
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