After a rebuilding season, the women’s crew team is hoping to advance to the next level this autumn.
At this time last year, the Elis began training camp with only seven of their top 18 varsity rowers. This season, the team has most of its core intact.
The team only lost two rowers and a coxswain from the varsity boat last year, head coach William Porter said.
“I’m pretty excited about this year’s team,” Porter said. “We have a great freshman recruited class and a very strong senior class. On paper, we should be fast.”
The Bulldogs had plenty of speed last season, qualifying for their fourth consecutive berth in the NCAA championship race, while in rebuilding mode. Yale finished 10th in that regatta.
“We have a lot to build off of last year,” captain Litsy Witkowsky ’04 said. “We had a very young team with a very small class. This year, a lot of leadership is coming back from the top.”
But this year’s squad, which opens its season in less than three weeks, cannot be compared directly to last year’s women’s crew program. Freshman coach Kate Maloney and a second assistant coach, Aaron Kaufman, have joined Porter this year.
“We are very enthusiastic about the experience Kate and Aaron bring to the team,” said Porter, who is entering his fifth year of head coaching with Yale and seventh overall.
Maloney was a member of the U.S. National Team and a participant in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Kaufman is a seven-time national champion in various lightweight crews.
But as the Bulldogs improve, so do many of the country’s best rowing programs. As a result of Title IX, women’s rowing has exploded across the country during the past decade, with new programs at colleges such as the University of Michigan and Washington State University now offering full athletic scholarships to high school recruits.
“Those other schools give 20 scholarships per program. As an Ivy league institution, we cannot, but we still compete,” Porter said.
For Yale, the lack of athletic scholarships has not deterred its recruitment practices, with recruits comprising a vast majority of the varsity boat. The proliferation of high school programs now makes it increasingly difficult for inexperienced women to join crew.
“It’s really tough right now to catch up to the skill and experience level some of these [recruits] have,” said Ari Romney ’06, a walk-on last year.
Walk-ons in women’s crew are at an additional disadvantage compared to their male counterparts because women’s rowing is not split into lightweight and heavyweight divisions. The NCAA does not recognize lightweight women’s crew.
“Honestly, our varsity boat tends to be recruits. It must be frustrating for the girls on the team who are small. If you’re 5’6 and 120 pounds, it’s a struggle,” said Wytkowsky, who considers her own 5-foot-8 inch frame “pretty short.”
As coach Porter looks for “results,” the Elis could use some more spectators of their own. Even with approximately 90 women’s rowing programs across the country, “women’s crew is not understood as well as other sports that students see at their high schools,” Porter said.
The Elis begin their season with an Oct. 11 home meet — the Head of the Housatonic race.