HGP rowing is already making serious waves
When J.D. Bridges took the job as Holy Ghost Prep’s first-ever rowing coach three years ago, he knew there would be challenges as he built the program from scratch.
“As someone who had coached in this area for a long time, I knew that the boys’ Catholic schools were often great rowing schools, so to find an all-boys private Catholic school without a team was kind of like finding the diamond in the rough,” says Bridges. “I knew there would be challenges, of course—the biggest one is educating the parents and the school community as a whole about rowing. It’s so different from other sports and very few people know anything about it—from the kids to the parents to the administration. It’s expensive, it’s off-campus; it’s just hard to explain sometimes all the different moving parts.”
Led by Bridges, a proven winner in the sport, Holy Ghost Prep is no longer a diamond in the rough. In fact, it’s starting to sparkle with one student-athlete already recruited and rowing in college (La Salle University freshman Zach Geiser) and a second one, HGP senior Grayson Bautz, poised to be a collegiate coxswain at Holy Cross in 2018-19.
“All that success, of course, comes down in the end to the boys. I hoped and, to be honest, expected that they would work hard and love the sport, because I’ve been fortunate enough to introduce rowing to a lot of kids in a lot of different situations over the years, but the HGP kids are just awesome,” says Bridges. “The sense of brotherhood they have; the way they support each other; their work ethic; it’s all just been beyond my expectations from the first day.”
Producing two Division I rowers already—as well as the program’s overall slow, but steady growth from a pair of eight-man boats competing in 2015-16 to two eights and two fours competing this past fall—has been impressive.
Says Holy Ghost Prep athletic director Jim Stewart: “The rowing program has exceeded expectations for three reasons: 1) A very hard-working group of student-athletes who have bought into the philosophy of the program by Coach J.D. Bridges; 2) the parents of our rowers have shown extraordinary support during the early stages of program development; and 3) The expertise of Coach Bridges and his vision have truly shined.
“J.D. is the mastermind behind the operation. His love for the sport, knowledge, professionalism and leadership are a huge reason why HGP rowing has been so successful. We look forward to many more successes in the future!”
Geiser and Bautz are the program’s two biggest early success stories. Geiser, a former baseball player who turned to rowing in 2015, has through-the-roof potential according to his La Salle University coaches, while Bautz, a team captain and a coxswain, will continue his still-young rowing career in college, serving as a tactician in the water at Holy Cross starting next fall.
“We liked Zach because of his height and length … long arms and long legs have the potential to move boats fast,” says La Salle University head rowing coach Tom Madden. “Rowing is one of those sports that most athletes start much later than other mainstream sports, so Zach starting later isn’t all that uncommon. What is great about it from a coaching standpoint is that he has a solid foundation of how to row and moving a boat while still being relatively new to the sport and hungry to continue pushing to be better every year. If Zach continues to focus on improving fitness and technique, he could be a first boat guy for us, for sure.”
During the recently completed fall season, Geiser competed in both second freshman 8 boats and second varsity 8 races and has really left an indelible impression on the Explorers coaches.
“On the water, he is one of the most efficient rowers we have in our program,” says La Salle University assistant rowing coach Marqus Brown. “On the erg, he is learning how to utilize all his length and his been doing tremendously better since the start of the season. I have often said when he gets stronger he’s going to be on a national team boat. I believe he has some of the greatest potential I’ve ever seen.
“He has been in our second freshmen boat, but has been one of those guys that will make our top freshmen boat much faster when he's a little stronger. I am excited to see how he will progress during the winter season. I believe he will be in a gold medal-winning boat at Dad Vails this spring.”
Like Geiser, Bautz came to rowing in 2015 and quickly established himself as one of the program’s leaders—both in and out of the water.
“He was a coxswain right away; he’s not a big guy but he’s smart and assertive. In his first year, as a sophomore coxswain, he was responsible for leading boats full of juniors and seniors and he never blinked. He’s been a leader on the team from day one because he was a coxswain, and now, as captain, he’s a crucial part of helping the team run, on and off the water,” says Bridges. “He has the absolute most important quality any rowing coach looks for in a coxswain: he can make any boat faster. He spots technical flaws in his rowers, knows how to correct them, knows how to motivate his crews, and knows how to think tactically while racing. Grayson’s going to be a great college coxswain.”
Success begets success, so the fact that the HGP program has already produced two collegian rowers in just a few short years has increased student interest in the sport—ensuring that there will be more Division I recruits on the horizon and that the program will continue to grow and thrive.
“Some of our most fit and successful rowers right now are our freshmen and sophomores,” says Bridges. “And a big reason why is that those guys embraced the culture we’ve been working to build right away and are putting in the work; they’re all about rowing from the first day they get to Ghost. They’re buying into what guys like Zach (Geiser) and Grayson (Bautz) have exemplified; but this bigger group of young guys is what will drive the program to really serious success in the next few years. I’m excited to see where it leads.”