“Why the hell can’t the novice men’s team learn to pick up their oars?”
It’s just about 7 a.m. and Liz Wilson, the crew team’s novice women’s coach, is not entirely happy. It’s a brisk 31 degrees. Today’s journey to Elmwood Ave., home of the Genesee Waterways Center boathouse, was one to be cheerful about: there’s a slight breeze and no rain. And while it became second nature to a seasoned group of stalwarts, the early trek – combined, of course, with two hours per morning of strenuous workouts in the shell (those fancy, speedlined boats) – has weeded more than a few sheep from the novice herd.
“We’ve had years where 100 started out and we ended with 15,” head coach William Green said, the hint of a smile on his face.
Green, now in his fifth year of coaching, bears a look of intense pride as he scans the current recruits. Despite the fact that some are having trouble learning to clean up after themselves, they’re working on it. And working a lot. The regimen the crew team endures daily has been formatted specifically for them.
“We have a scientific plan we follow and we do different intensities each day,” Green said.
On average there are five to ten minutes of warm-up exercises followed by 75-90 minutes of intense workout. It’s not easy, but it is necessary for a sport demanding intense physical strength (The New York Times reported that a rower puts up to 1,300 pounds of pressure on their back with the catch of a stroke).
And that’s before considering the other necessities of rowing.
“It’s a very technical sport in that you have to be doing everything right all the time,” varsity rower and junior Dave Leven notes, “I got a taste [freshman year] of just how hard it was to make it as easy as the varsity guys made it look, because there’s a lot of things you can do wrong on a single stroke that can mess up the entire boat.”
It’s a common experience for freshmen to feel like they were getting in over their heads. Women’s varsity captain and senior Michaela Sacra remembers her first time on the water.
“It was very unstable and it was a little nerve-wracking. I wasn’t very good at all the first couple months I rowed. It just feels uncertain and everyone is really bad in the beginning.”
The dedication to training goes a long way in explaining the drop from 60 novices at the beginning of this year to about half of that as of this week.
“I had played sports in high school but wasn’t ready for a varsity commitment, which is pretty funny because we want to become varsity pretty badly,” Sacra said.
Indeed, though there’s mutual agreement about many things on the team, one major issue in which there is generally unanimous consent is the need to shift from club sport status to varsity sport status.
Sacra noted that the Athletic Department noted interest last year in considering crew for varsity status and that the jump can generally be implemented swiftly. But the Athletic Department has yet to make a decision.
“[Some varsity teams] have budgets approaching $1 million,” Green said.
Though not being governed by National Collegiate Athletic Association’s rules presents some benefits – NCAA-sanctioned Division III women’s teams are supposed to be off the water by Oct. 31 whereas a club team can go until the river gets too cold – the increase in funding provided by varsity status is not easily ignored.
“We’ve been able to do well, but it would be nice to have a second full-time coach so they could get more individual attention and progress more,” Green said.
Three-seat and junior Matthew Spielmann, a member of the men’s top eight for a year and a half, enjoys the thought of being recognized as a varsity sport.
“It allows us a larger coaching staff, better boats, better equipment, bussing and lower fundraising [necessities],” he said.
Granting the crew team varsity sport status is getting harder to ignore, too, as they continue to rout some of the best teams in the nation. One of Spielmann’s fondest memories was at the International Rowing Athletic Association championship race freshman year.
“Finishing seventh out of 24 boats, but winning the petit final and absolutely crushing Harvard, Cornell, Wisconsin, Long Beach, California? schools that are traditionally the best in the country.”
Being the underdog makes the moment even more worth cherishing.
“Right next to you is Cornell, but behind you is Harvard and Long Beach, and you’re thinking, ‘How the hell are we this fast? This is amazing!'”