PHOTO AND STORY COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
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MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin women’s rowing program boasts a storied history since its inception in 1974 as a varsity sport, and one of its most accomplished rowers begins a new era as its newest head coach.
Middleton, Wisconsin, native, world champion, Big Ten champion and All-American rower Vicky Opitz takes over as the seventh head coach in program history.
“Vicky is the ideal person to lead our women’s rowing program at this time and I could not be more excited for her and our rowing student-athletes,” Director of Athletics Chris McIntosh said. “She has been a championship-level rower both at Wisconsin and on the international stage with Team USA. Wisconsin rowing is part of her family legacy and it is gratifying to see her earn this leadership role. I look forward to working with her to move the program forward.”
Opitz spent the past two seasons in Porter Boathouse as an assistant coach working with women’s lightweight rowing and was chosen after a national search.
“I’d like to thank Chris McIntosh, Marija Pientka and the athletic department for this incredible opportunity,” head coach Vicky Opitz said. “I couldn’t be more excited to continue working with Wisconsin women’s rowing in this new role.
“Wisconsin women’s rowing has a strong tradition and history which I’m looking to continue and grow.”
Opitz brings a history of excellence on the water and a humble and caring attitude to her new role.
At Wisconsin, Opitz was a 2010 CRCA Pocock First-Team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten pick when she helped the Badgers to their first Big Ten rowing championship and a program-best seventh-place finish at the NCAA rowing championships. She was also UW’s female winner of the Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award that senior year.
After her time as a UW rower and beginning in 2013, she won four world championships during the United States’ remarkable 11-year run as world and Olympic champions in the women’s eight. She also served as an alternate for Team USA at both the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Summer Games held in Rio, Brazil, and Tokyo, Japan, respectively.
Opitz was part of the world fastest crew in 2013 with the U.S. women’s eight at the 2013 World Rowing Cup III, a mark that stood until the 2020 Olympics. Most recently, she rowed for the 2022 U.S. National Team in the women’s four and is still active in the national team rowing ranks, earning an invitation to the Senior National Team selection camp last month.
In 2018, Opitz earned USRowing Female Athlete of the Year after winning with the women’s eight and competing in the women’s pair at the world championships. That award was renamed the Carie Graves Female Athlete of the Year Award in the summer of 2022 after the late, great Badger and Spring Green native.
Granddaughter of former Wisconsin men’s rowing coach Randy Jablonic and the daughter of former UW rowers Kay (Jablonic) and KC Opitz, the Middleton native played tennis, soccer and basketball before embarking on her rowing career at UW.
Opitz takes the reigns from Bebe Bryans, who retired this spring after 19 years at the helm of Wisconsin women’s rowing.
Badger women’s rowing owns a pair of women’s eight national championships (1975, 1986) to go along with 17 NCAA championships appearances since 1999. UW also owns five Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships in the lightweight eight.
All-time, 18 Wisconsin women’s rowers have gone on to compete at the Olympics, while 43 have raced on the international stage at either the senior or under-23 level. In addition, 37 Badgers have earned 43 total All-American honors.
“If anyone was ever born for this new role, it’s Vicky,” UW men’s rowing head coach Chris Clark said. “Apart from being a crew alum, she’s the daughter, granddaughter, sister and niece of UW rowers. We already know Vicky so well and are thrilled to have her at helm of this historic program.”