Rowing: New OCU rowing coach hopes to take Stars to new heights
On the job just three weeks, Tom Dougherty has had to hit the ground running.
Or perhaps “hit the water paddling” would be the better way to describe the duties of Oklahoma City University's new rowing coach.
Dougherty takes over the OCU program just before the university's biggest athletic event, the 12th annual Head of the Oklahoma, which begins Saturday in the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River.
The Head of the Oklahoma, part of the Oklahoma Regatta Festival, features 2.5-mile races all day Saturday and again Sunday morning. The 500-meter OGE NightSprints are scheduled Saturday night.
As an athlete and coach, Dougherty has been part of big regattas across the country, but Saturday will be his first time to experience the Head of the Oklahoma. The event has attracted 46 club and university teams from Houston to Canada and 769 entries this year. Dougherty comes to OCU from Iona College in New York, where he was the men's and women's assistant rowing coach the two previous seasons. He has spent the past two summers as the head women's coach for the New York Athletic Club, leading a crew to a club national championship each year.
What lured him to Oklahoma City? Oklahoma City University and the boathouses in the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River.
“It has great facilities. It's like world class, what they have to offer for the rowing program,” Dougherty said. “The facilities, you can't ask for anything better.
“It's a one-stop shop. You have everything available there and you have high performance athletes training around you. And they are rowing on a world class venue the way the river is built.”
OCU also reminded him of his alma mater, Marion College in Ohio, where he competed on the rowing team as a coxswain on the varsity eight.
“I went to a small liberal arts school in Ohio, so I got that feel of the community environment here,” he said.
Dougherty grew up just outside Philadelphia where he was recruited at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa., to be the coxswain on the rowing team because of his size.
“I was like 4-8 and weighed 95 pounds in high school,” he said. “They look for small guys to steer the boat in the coxswain position. I got involved my freshman year and never looked back.”
In high school, he served as coxswain for crews that won two medals at the Philadelphia City Championship finals and three medals at the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship.
Dougherty, 27, replaces Mike Knopp, who started the rowing program at OCU as a club in 2000 and turned it into a varsity program for both men and women just three years later. Knopp will now serve as OCU's director of river operations.
OCU has quickly grown into a nationally competitive rowing program, especially the men. The men's varsity eight at OCU have advanced to the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships for two consecutive years.
OCU's varsity eight finished first and second the past two seasons in the 2016 Western Sprints. The Stars have also captured eight gold medals in the Dad Vail Regatta and won five consecutive Head of Hooch points trophies.
“We are still a very young program in relationship to the sport of rowing, the oldest intercollegiate sport in the United States,” Knopp said. “We've made a lot of strides in the last 15 years.
“We are in a really good position to grow in terms of the recruitment side of things, playing off the opportunity to bring in a lot of talent, leveraging the fact to kids that you can come row at OCU and you are in the same boathouse as the National Training Center.”
Dougherty said the OCU rowing program is getting noticed around the country.
“They have done a lot of great things already and have a bright future ahead of them,” he said.
Dougherty hopes to expand the recruiting base for OCU with his contacts in the northeast United States and in Florida, where he also coached at Jacksonville University.
“He's from Philadelphia. He knows the landscape out there very well,” Knopp said.
Doughtery said Texas and Oklahoma also will be a focus of recruiting. Rowing is really growing in Texas, he said.
“There are a lot of rowing clubs on the junior level and high school level down there,” he said. “We (OCU) are probably the closest varsity team on the men's level to any of those high schools. We have got to grow our numbers on both sides, especially the women.”
But first up is the Head of the Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Regatta Festival. Dougherty is eager to see the enthusiasm for the sport of rowing in Oklahoma City.
“I'm excited to see people along the banks of the river watching rowing,” Dougherty said.
The Head of the Oklahoma
Where: Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday, 7 a.m. until noon
What: 2.5-mile head racing among 46 club and university rowing teams from across the United States and Canada
When: Saturday, 6 to 10 p.m.
What: 500-meter sprint races by the Head of Oklahoma rowers
RIVERSPORT Adventures, including RIVERSPORT Rapids and the Velosolutions Pump Track, will be open on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.