Benefield: Petaluma grad heads into final season of Cal rowing with determination

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Samantha Lamos never got the message.

The email was from U.S. Rowing, telling her that her tryout went well and she was invited to the national team camp this summer. But Lamos, who graduated from Petaluma High in 2015 and is heading into her senior year at Cal, didn’t know what she didn’t know. So when a fellow rower texted her, Lamos was, well, stunned.

“A friend texted me and said, ‘Dude, we’re in,’” she said.

The pragmatic Lamos wanted proof.

“She screen-shotted the text,” she said.

She was in.

Ecstatic as she was in that moment, it was preceded by some serious soul searching. Lamos is majoring in society and environment with a minor in public policy. Lots of her peers are getting career-related internships right about now. Should the academically driven Lamos try for a career-focused summer or one of the sweatier kind?

“I went out with one of my friends and she was like, ‘Sam, this is the time. Now is the time. You are not going to do this next year, you’ve got to do this now if you want to do it,’” she said.

She took the advice.

“I had this epiphany,” she said. “This is my last year as a Bear. I just want to hit this year hard and fast.”

“I’m really, really driven to take this year to the fullest extent,” she said.

So not even a week removed from celebrating Cal’s second NCAA rowing championship in three years, Lamos flew to New Jersey to train with the U.S. Rowing U-23 squad, right alongside many of the athletes she had just been competing against.

“Everyone is from a school you were just racing against and now you are teammates. It’s really cool,” she said. “We are Team USA.”

Lamos has had a relatively short career in rowing. She came to it in high school when she started training and competing with the North Bay Rowing Club. She took to it immediately. Before her junior year in high school, she was chosen as one of eight female rowers to compete for the U.S. in the CanAmMex regatta. She came home with two gold medals.

Each year at Cal, she has risen in the ranks.

“She has really kept her head down and plowed ahead,” Cal coach Al Acosta said.

What Lamos lacks in technical mastery, she makes up for in grit, he said.

“She is fit and strong,” he said. “The technical side is her limiting factor. But she’s really determined enough to overcome those technical deficiencies.”

Lamos started her junior season at Cal in a four-seat boat, but in short order worked her way onto the second varsity eight. That boat rowed to a second-place finish at the NCAAs in May, grabbing crucial points for the Bears’ team title.

“That was absolutely superb,” she said of winning the national title in May. “I can’t even describe it. My face hurt from smiling so much.”

It was the beginning of the proverbial roll for Lamos.

“She is a model teammate,” Acosta said. “Her effort is super consistent and aggressive. (Teammates) like to row with people like that.”

Apparently. From the U-23 national team camp being held in New Jersey, Lamos was picked to row in the coxless four at the Henley Royal Regatta outside of London July 4-8. It was the first time Lamos had ever raced that discipline.

“You don’t race them in college rowing,” she said. “It was a really amazing experience.”

And in addition to a totally foreign discipline, the teammates were brand new to each other. Not an easy thing to deal with in rowing, a sport in which the foundation is teamwork and synchronicity.

“You have to be really adaptable in that type of scenario,” she said. “I think we did a really good job of trying to figure each other out and stay positive.”

It probably didn’t help that the River Thames was roiling from loads of spectator boats motoring up and down the course.

“There are a lot of people going up and down and they wake you,” she said.

Steering — remember, they had no coxswain to guide them — was also a factor. Lamos’ boat was warned twice for veering into their competitors’ lane. A race official’s warning flag adds meters to the distance a team must row and can also be a distraction.

“The other crew capitalized and sprinted right through it,” she said.

“They just had experience on their side,” she said. “It was a pretty close race. In the end, we took the fall.”

Her four was knocked out of the competition by the team from London, but she parlayed her performance into a place on the U-23 national team that heads to Poland today for the World Rowing U-23 Championship on Lake Malta in Poznan.

The U.S. will have 22 crews competing in Poland. She’ll be rowing in the women’s “four with coxswain” category with athletes from the University of Virginia, Rutgers, Brown and UCLA.

It’s the first time that category has been offered at the world championships. And being first has its advantages.

“If we do take home a gold, we’ll set a world record,” she said. “It’s another added element of fun.”

And an element of fun is part of what sets Lamos apart, according to Acosta.

“She projects positivity,” he said. “People like to row with her.”

Lamos wants to get everything she can out of this summer because she wants to put everything she has into her senior campaign.

“I think I have gained a lot of really good racing experience. I have learned a lot technically,” she said.

And she’s letting herself dream a little about what can happen for the U.S. squad in Poland.

“Now I’m just shooting for the stars,” she said. “Why not go for the gold, take this all the way?”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield."

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