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McDougall will be leader of men at OSU

One of Alexis McDougall’s job requirements is to be a tad bossy.

And she’s pretty good at it.

That quality, along with strong leadership and communication skills and knowledge of how to get a crew of rowers into unison and keep it there, has landed her a spot with Oregon State’s men’s rowing team.

McDougall is a coxswain, the captain of the boat who plays such a pivotal role in its success.

The South Medford senior took up the sport a little more than a year ago as a member of the Rogue Rowing Club, and last fall, she and two club teammates — St. Mary’s Alexis Benton and Kate Vasey — signed college letters of intent.

Benton and Vasey do the heavy lifting as rowers. McDougall is, essentially, a coach on the water. She was recruited to Rogue Rowing by a friend who thought McDougall would be a good lightweight rower.

“I ended up joining and really liked it,” said McDougall, “but I was a little bit smaller than all the rowers, so they put me in their coxswain seat. That’s what I ended up doing. I didn’t ever really row.”

At 5-foot-6 and 112 pounds, she is taller and lighter than average for a coxswain.

But she has a big role, and she performed it well enough that the Beavers wanted her. It’s common for men’s teams to have women coxswains because they’re lighter, which helps the boat glide through the water.

McDougall facilitated her recruitment by recording her coxing and sending it to coaches.

Oregon State “really liked my recording, so they recruited me from that,” she said. “It was really the only school I was interested in just because of it being in state, so it’s cheaper, and also because of its science program, which is fantastic.”

OSU is no slouch of a program. The Beavers were ranked 21st in the nation when the season was canceled in March due to the coronavirus.

“They’re very competitive, which I’m super excited about,” said McDougall, “and it’s very family oriented.”

When she arrives, she’ll stay in a dorm area specific to the crew program.

McDougall’s ascension in rowing has been rapid.

A former South Medford dance team member and a soccer player in her youth, she had no idea how complex the sport was when she signed up.

The coxswain is at the front in large boats, facing the rowers, and at the back facing opposite of them in small boats.

Duties start early for coxswains, who pre-race meetings with coaches and officials to go over rules, safety, traffic patterns and other issues.

Coxswains signal when the boat is ready at the start of the race, then offer a steady stream of instruction and encouragement through the finish line.

“I have to, obviously, be very detail oriented, that kind of thing,” said McDougall. “I have to make sure the rhythm of the boat is set and all the blades are moving together; everybody’s sitting up nice and tall, the form is good. I also motivate the boat, execute race plans and steer the boat.”

She uses a small rudder to maneuver the shell. She also can call for one side to change its pull, asking for 10 power strokes, for instance, to change direction. The methods can be used simultaneously if a major move is needed.

Crucial to the process is an electronic cox box, which starts a stopwatch on the first stroke and amplifies her voice through speakers along the boat. All members of the crew can hear her, and the box tells her the crew’s stroke rate and gives split times each 500 meters.

McDougall can tell if one or more rowers is out of sync.

“I’m able to kind of feel, just the way the boat is moving, if something’s off,” she said. “I can see, too, the rowers’ movements, so if somebody’s off, I’m able to call them out and help correct their form and stuff like that.”

As much as anything, her constant chatter is punctuated with encouragement as the crew strains through to a strong finish. Fall races are 5,000 meters, and spring races are 2,000.

When the race is over, she oversees getting the boat to the dock and out of the water.

When McDougall hooked up with the rowing club, she couldn’t have imagined what it would lead to.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I wouldn’t change anything in the world for it. It was fantastic, just learning how to work with people in such a tight space and really learning to trust each other and make boats go fast. It was super fun. It’s like a family.”

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or email ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Coxswain Alexis McDougall, front right, directs a boat during one of the Rogue Rowing Club’s regattas. Submitted photo