As Yale’s three crew teams — men’s heavyweight, men’s lightweight and women’s squads — hit the water this spring, their task is to turn individual strengths into team success.
This past weekend, at the Charles River All-Star Has-Been’s (C.R.A.S.H.-B.) Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston, individual Eli rowers demonstrated they are fit for the spring season.
Lightweight rower Andrew Liverman ’02 even won the Collegiate division.
But now that the 2001 spring season is on the horizon, the teams must focus on developing the technical skill that will transform individual strength into team speed.
The men’s lightweight crew is coming off a tremendous season. The first varsity boat won its division in the Intercollegiate Rowing Championships, which is the crew national championship, and then went on to win the Temple Challenge Cup in the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta.
But the team cannot afford to rest on its laurels. In last year’s national championship race, Yale beat Princeton by only 0.15 seconds, and Columbia was only 0.6 seconds off the pace in third place. The team can expect the same type of competition this year.
“We have learned a great deal from last year, because we experienced a great deal last year,” captain Andrew Morley ’01 said in an e-mail. “The success and failure of last year both equally remind us that anything is possible, so we must work hard to position ourselves well for any situation.”
The Bulldogs seem to have picked up this season where they left off in 2000. In the fall season, the team won the renowned Head of the Charles in Cambridge, Mass., and became the first collegiate team to do so since Cornell in 1979.
However, the success at the Charles does not necessarily correlate into success in the spring season. The Head of the Charles, as with the other fall season events, consists of three-mile races. The races in the spring season are much shorter, at only 2000 meters.
“Your intensity needs to be correspondingly higher,” head coach Andy Card said of the sprint races. “[But] knowing that we are in a position to win is certainly motivating.”
The team returns seven of nine members of last year’s national champion boat, meaning that the ingredients are there to repeat. But Card and his team warn against focusing too much on results.
“If we can make improvements every day, I think we will put ourselves in a position to compete with the best teams,” Morley said.
The men’s crew is looking to improve upon its results of last spring, when it failed to qualify for the championship heat at the Eastern Sprints Regatta.
One advantage the squad will have this year as it tries to earn a spot in the top heat at the Eastern Sprints will be experience.
Last year’s squad was roughly half sophomores, all of whom were experiencing their first year of rowing at the varsity level. Freshmen are not allowed to row varsity according to the rules of Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges.
“[We had] a much needed improvement in maturity,” head coach Dave Vogel said. “Half of our team got a lot more experience. It takes a certain mixture of hard work and maturity to mold a good crew.”
The hard work portion of that equation has been the training the team did throughout the fall and winter. Vogel points to freshman Andrew Brennan as the poster boy for the success of his team’s training program.
At the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’s, Brennan placed seventh in the Collegiate division of the men’s open event. Brennan’s time of 6:04 for 2,000 meters was an improvement from the 6:18 times he was posting this summer.
“We look from the perspective of how we feel about our training,” Vogel said. “If we are showing the kind of improvements that Andrew Brennan has showed, we feel that our training program is doing well.”
Successful preparation will be a necessity as the team will face a schedule that includes many of the top teams in the country.
“Our expectations are that it is going to be another very competitive season,” Vogel said. “There are so many teams that have become so competitive.”
Another challenge for the team has been recovering from the controversy surrounding an alleged hazing incident that occurred in December.
“It was disruptive for a little while,” captain Scott Proper ’01 said. “The one way we can put it behind us — and show that to ourselves, to our competitors and to Yale — is to win.”
The women’s crew team also had success at the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’s. Three Eli rowers placed in the top 10 of the International division of the open women event.
“The C.R.A.S.H.-B.’s give you an indication of what people’s fitness levels are,” women’s head coach Will Porter said.
But Porter questioned whether those individual performances will translate into team success, but now believes this transition will occur as a result of the confidence the team has earned through experience.
“Confidence is something you sort of learn on your own,” Porter said. “They have gained confidence through their own accomplishments.”
Porter said individuals have taken it upon themselves to gain more experience over the summer.
For example, Melissa Merritt ’03 was a member of the women’s under-23 national team that competed in Denmark over the summer.
“Any experience you get at that level is just going to make you stronger and give you experiences to bring to your team and to your boat,” Merritt said.
Merritt said her experience against top rowers from around the world will be an advantage when she returns to competing against college competition.
The women will train in Florida during spring break. The men will join them in the Sunshine State, as the lightweights travel to Sarasota for nine days, and the heavyweights will practice in Tampa. The heavyweights will also have their first race of the spring season while in Florida when they participate in the President’s Cup.