If the Ohio State football team needs help formulating a blueprint for how to proceed in the wake of a national championship, they need only head four miles west of campus. There they'll find the Griggs Reservoir Boathouse, the building that plays host to the school's women's rowing team.
It is here, at the intersection of Riverside Drive and and Fishinger Road, that the foundation for consecutive national championships was laid. The Reservoir sits on the Scioto River, one of the most ideal rowing locations in the world. Its tree-lined banks and limestone cradle are to thank for that designation.
But it is not the limestone, nor the trees, nor the water itself that is responsible for the fact that the Ohio State women's rowing team has won back-to-back national championships. The answer runs deeper than the idyllic setting that nature (and a $5.2 million facility) has provided these athletes. As with any sports story, the human element is where the real substance lies, and so it is with the humans responsible for these victories that our story begins.
The first thing you need to know about women's rowing is that it's not like other sports. Not in how it builds a roster, anyway. While the recruiting process for revenue sports starts early and is a dogfight between schools down to the wire (since mid-2014, Ohio State has held a commitment from a quarterback who won't graduate high school until 2017), women's rowing necessarily goes about constructing its powerhouse lineup in other ways.
Chloe Meyer, a senior from West Chester, walked on to the team her freshman year with no rowing experience under her belt. Meyer was a competitive swimmer in high school, though she had no plans to compete at a school like Ohio State. Collegiate sports found her anyway. She was contacted by Ohio State's novice (first-year) rowing coach, Chuck Rodosky, and invited to an information session about the team. It didn't take long for Meyer to start believing that her place was on top of the water rather than in it.
"I didn't really know what it meant to be a Buckeye rower until spring of my freshman year when we started racing. I knew I wanted something that pushed me physically and mentally. But I never imagined how important this team and this sport would be in my life," Meyer said. "I can't imagine my collegiate experience without rowing."
Meyer is a two-time champ and an integral part of this year's team. Not bad for someone who had never rowed before college.
That's not to say that Ohio State women's rowing is absent the kind of traditional recruits that make up the bulk of revenue sport rosters. One of the Buckeyes' clubhouse leaders and wiliest vets, Holly Norton, was brought to Columbus specifically to row. A South Africa native, she knew next to nothing about American collegiate sports when she started rowing, but was sold on the Buckeye program by her junior year of high school.
"A close friend from home, Claire-Louise Bode, was studying and rowing at OSU and had shared her experience with me. After hearing how much she loved it, I knew I wanted to be a Buckeye," Norton told Land-Grant Holy Land. "My recruitment experience was very pleasant."
Norton is a 2016 Olympic hopeful. She boasts a good deal of hardware to go with her national championships as part of the team, including a 2014 CRCA All-American designation and 2014 Academic All-American honors.
Holly is far from the only international rower on the Buckeye roster, which might be the most geographically diverse team on Ohio State's campus. Athletes from five countries outside the US -- Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, and Spain -- don the Scarlet and Gray on race days. Even when considering the homegrown talent, the women's rowing team is a good deal more geographically diverse than the general student population. More than 80% of OSU students are Ohio natives, but the rowing team has members from 14 different states. Who said Urban Meyer and Kerry Coombs are the only coaches good at planting flags and swiping top talent?
That so diverse a team has so readily adopted the message presented by its leaders is a testament to all involved, according to Chloe Meyer.
"Our team is extremely young this year, so it has been important to instill our team's values in those who are new to varsity, Ohio State, or even this country. The upperclassmen have worked diligently at encouraging the younger girls and making sure we are all on the same page," she said. "It would be impossible to do what we do if we weren't there for each other."
There might be a boon of international and out-of-state talent on the roster, but the Buckeyes hardly lack for in-state power, either: One of the leaders of this year's team practically rows for a hometown crowd. Ashley Bauer, a senior, made the long trek to Columbus from her native New Albany to compete at Ohio State. But despite the geographical leg up, the Buckeyes almost lost out on having Bauer in the fold.
"I actually had no intention of going to Ohio State initially," Bauer told Land-Grant Holy Land. "I thought it would be too close to home and I thought I would want something different."
So what sold her on the Buckeyes that a lifetime in New Albany couldn't?
"Once I went on my visit to Ohio State, I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be. I remember being one hour into my visit on campus and thinking to myself, 'There's something great going on here,' not just on the team but all around campus," she said.
We all know, more than ever in this year of champions, that there is something great going on here. But the magic of spring days in Columbus alone isn't enough to churn out championships with roughly the same frequency that my freshman roommate did his laundry. There has to be something more, something special about this team, that can make the ultimate sporting dream a reality for a third straight season.
"There is a lot of trust in each other and trust in the process. Training isn't easy by any means, but I think the trust and drive we have for each other really sets this team apart," Bauer said.
"We have a fantastic team culture, and it creates an environment in which you want to work hard for one another," added Holly Norton. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to row with [this] group of wonderful ladies."
The Buckeyes open their season at home today, facing off against Louisville, Michigan State, and Notre Dame. Heavy lies the crown for the back-to-back defending champs: since 1997, seven different teams have taken home the title. No team has won the championship three consecutive times since NCAA took ownership of the sport, so Ohio State will have to make history to maintain its national championship high.
It's not just history the Buckeyes will be racing when the season kicks off, either. Buckeye head coach Andy Teitelbaum already has a few teams circled as contenders who could give Ohio State trouble.
"We've heard from a few sources that Brown is going to bring quite a bit of speed this year," Teitelbaum said. "Virginia, Michigan, and Cal are also interested in taking the '15 title, amongst others."
Michigan's football team might have taken a nosedive under Brady Hoke, and their basketball team may have lost to the worst program in college basketball a few short months ago, but one place the Wolverines don't lack respectability is on the water. They're a legitimate threat to challenge Ohio State for the crown in 2015.
"Michigan is an obvious rival for us, not only for the reasons most people understand, but because we've been the two highest-performing programs in the conference most springs," Teitelbaum said. "Still, it's different than I think most people imagine. There's so much respect between the programs because we're both pushing the bar in our attempt to be better than the other."
So what will it take to add the women's rowing team to the list of national champions from Ohio State in this nascent year, alongside the likes of the football team, wrestling team, and men's fencing team?
"We don't think too much about what everyone else is doing or thinking about," said Teitelbaum. "We spend a lot of time talking about the choices we can make to put us in the best position for a good outcome...We're all looking at what we can do better, and they're succeeding at that, so it's pretty incredible to watch."
Teitelbaum added that the roster turnover they've experienced has led to some question marks for the team heading into the season, but he's looking forward to watching them race.
"It's going to be an exciting spring," he said.
Like a solar eclipse or Ezekiel Elliott's torso, it may be difficult to look directly at the possibility of a third straight national rowing title. But like the eclipse or Zeke's NCAA-censored abs, you can't help but sneak a glimpse at the possibility of a threepeat and try not to stare. In Columbus, it's spring time, and the defending national champs are out on the water again.