One of the West Coast's most accomplished coaches, Zenon Babraj is in his 15th year (2016-17) as director of rowing and head coach of the Women of Troy. He is a two-time CRCA West Region and Pac-12 Women's Rowing Coach of the Year (2007, '13) and wields an impressive resume on both the national and international levels.
Under Babraj's guidance, the Trojans have achieved the greatest success in the program's history. He is responsible for each of USC's 10 team bids to the NCAA championships (2005, '07, '09-16) and brought the Trojans their first and only conference team title in 2007. In 2013, his crew's fourth-place finish at the NCAA championships was a program-best mark.
Babraj's rowers have earned 25 of USC's 28 CRCA All-America selections and 44 All-West-Region certificates. He has produced 26 All-Conference rowers including the 2007 Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year Gabriela Varekova and the 2013 Pac-12 Athlete of the Year and Pac-12 Medal winner Melanie Grindle. Babraj has also maintained a steady flow of academic honors with 66 conference all-academic selections and 29 CRCA National Scholar-Athlete awards.
Babraj's crews have brought USC six victories for the coveted Jessop-Whittier Cup in the San Diego Crew Classic (2007, `11-15) and have claimed a pair of Jackie Ann Stitt Hungness Trophies (2V8) and three Karen Plumleigh Cortney Cups (V4+) from the annual west-coast regatta.
His 2007 varsity eight garnered the school's first-ever No. 1 ranking and became just the second USC eight to win the Jessop-Whittier Cup (2001). In 2013, the Trojans held the nation's top ranking as a team for six consecutive weeks heading into the NCAA championships. Under his guidance, individual Trojan boats have won three Pac-12 titles including the 2007 and 2013 varsity eight and the 2005 varsity four.
USC has finished as high as fourth in the final team standings at the NCAA championships (2013) and has had two bronze-medal winners (2007 and 2012) in the varsity eight, and a silver-medal varsity four (2013) under Babraj.
In 2010, the Women of Troy put two boats in NCAA grand finals for the first time in program history. USC's varsity eight finished in sixth and the varsity four finished in fourth place. A year later, Babraj's 2011 crew put all three of its boats into NCAA grand finals. USC'S V8 took fifth while the 2V8 earned a program-best sixth-place finish and the V4 claimed bronze for its best finish since claiming the 1998 crown. The Trojans also had all three of their boats in grand finals in 2013.
Babraj and his wife Kelly were first hired as co-head coaches of the Trojans' program in June of 2002. The pair took over as only the second coaching staff in USC history since the decision to adopt women's rowing as a scholarship sport at Troy was made in 1996.
In his first season on campus, Babraj guided the varsity eight to just its second appearance in the NCAA grand final for a sixth-place finish. Two seasons later, USC received its first-ever team bid to the NCAA championships and finished 11th in the final team standings.
In 2007, Babraj led the Trojans to their second Jessop-Whittier Cup title at the San Diego Crew Classic, a program-first Pac-10 varsity eight title, and the team's first-ever conference team championship. The league crown catapulted the Women of Troy to their second team appearance at the NCAA championships; the varsity eight's 10th consecutive trip. There, Trojan boats enjoyed their most successful showing in program history as the varsity four and second varsity eight each won their petite finals and the varsity eight took a school-best third-place finish in the grand final. The team's performance earned the Trojans a fifth-place overall finish. Babraj was named the 2007 CRCA West-Region Coach of the Year and Pac-10 Women's Rowing Coach of the Year.
USC's varsity eight earned its 11th straight trip to the NCAA championships in 2008 where it finished in 10th overall. In 2009, Babraj's guidance brought the Trojans their third team bid to the NCAA championships. USC finished 11th overall in the team standings and had ninth-place finishes from both the varsity eight and the second varsity eight.
A native of Warsaw, Poland, Babraj was a member of the Polish National Rowing Team for 10 years (1969-78) as both a sweep oarsman and a sculler. In 1978, he was named head coach of the SKRA Warsaw club program and assumed responsibilities as director of the Olympic Training Center. During his tenure, he led crews to nine national championships and saw 15 of his athletes selected to Poland's National and Olympic teams.
In 1984, under martial law, Babraj defected to the United States and made his first stop in Seattle, Wash., where he served as a volunteer assistant coach at Washington under legendary Husky head coach Dick Erickson for one season.
He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the spring of 1985 where he became the director of the Cincinnati Rowing Club. During his time with the CRC, his program became a designated National Training Center and Babraj helped organize the National Championship Regatta. In the summer of 1986, he accepted his first position with the U.S. National Team as an assistant coach.
Babraj later coached at Brown University and in 1986, he led his freshman crews to the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Championship in the eight and four events. That summer, Babraj returned to the U.S. National Team where he coached the pre-elite crews to gold and silver medals at the U.S. Olympic Festival.
In the summer of 1986, Babraj returned to the West Coast, as the men's rowing program director at UCLA, taking over a then-floundering program. In five years with the Bruins (1987-91), he led the men to an unprecedented three straight Pac-10 Championships (1987-89) and earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year accolades in each of those seasons. UCLA's 1987 Pac-10 Championship was the school's first in 17 years, while the 1988 title marked the first repeat in the 55-year history of the program. In 1990, Babraj guided the Bruins to a bronze medal at the Collegiate National Championships which marked a then-highest finish ever by a UCLA crew.
While at UCLA, he produced seven national team athletes and three Olympians. In 1987, Babraj also served as an assistant coach for the U.S. at the World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, and helped lead the eights to a gold medal. In 1989, he served as head coach for the World University Games held in Duisburg, Germany.
When funding for the UCLA varsity program was cut in 1992, Babraj and his wife Kelly moved to Alaska and opened the Alaska Sports Academy where they trained individuals and teams in several sports at the high school, collegiate, and elite level. Together, they coached a number of athletes who went on to compete on U.S. national teams in their respective sports. The pair left Alaska in 1999 when Babraj was again hired as an assistant rowing coach with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the World Championships.
Babraj turned down a permanent position with the National Team in 2000 to instead assume the responsibility of rebuilding a struggling program at Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. At the same time, Kelly accepted the head coaching position at William Smith College (Hobart, a men's private college, is a brother school to William Smith, a women's private college), where the pair spent three years (2000-02). Babraj led the Statesmen to two undefeated seasons (2001-02) and his crews finished as the top Division III team at the 2002 Head of the Charles and Stonehurst Invitational.
Babraj holds a master's degree in physical education and a rowing coaching diploma from the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw, Poland. He earned a general certificate of education from the Engineering College in Warsaw in 1974. In 1973, while attending Engineering College, he was honored with the City of Warsaw Award for saving a woman's life. Babraj also served in the Polish Special Forces and was named a top cadet in 1979.
Born in Warsaw on Sept. 1, 1954, Babraj and his wife Kelly reside in Rancho Palos Verdes and have two children, Arianna and Konrad. Babraj is the 1985 World Master's Champion in rowing and the 1997 U.S. Master's National Champion in cross-country skiing.