How does it feel to be young, buff and desired by Yale in your twilight years of high school?

“It was pretty overwhelming,” recalled Mary Kate Sullivan ’05, recruited by Yale’s crew team one year ago.

These days, from her room in Lawrance Hall, and sleepy from daily four-hour freshman rowing sessions, she expresses happiness with her decision.

“[Being recruited] may have narrowed my choices of schools, but it also made that decision a lot more difficult. I liked the Yale coaches a lot, and that helped convince me to come here,” she said.

Recruited rowers choose Yale over other schools for many reasons, not least for the chance to compete at the national level; Yale’s reputation for excellence in varsity crew is no secret. Still, when high school recruits agree to row for Yale, they also agree to enter into the tradition of Yale freshman rowing that may be the best kept secret behind the varsity team’s enduring success.

At Yale, all freshman rowers join the freshman crew team. No one rows varsity, no matter her talent or drive. Imagine the same standard applied to the great rookie years in sports history, say, to Jackie Robinson or Shaquille O’Neal as “freshmen,” and shake your head. Then imagine the things these guys could have taught the other rookies.

“I definitely enjoy it. It’s just great being on a team with a group of guys you have something in common with,” said Jeff Mascia ’05. Mascia was recruited to row out of high school.

Indeed, freshman crew works for both recruited and novice or “walk-on” rowers just as living on Old Campus works for Yalies in general. It provides a great shortcut for plugging into Yale socially and building friendships with future teammates.

“I love all the girls on the crew team so much,” recruit Casandra Rosenberg ’05 said. “It gave me a group to belong to right away.”

Mascia added, “I’ve been really impressed with the way [the novice rowers] have picked it up. A lot of the novices will turn out to be the best rowers we have.”

Last weekend at the Yale Invitational in Derby for freshmen, Mascia led a boat split evenly between novices and recruits to a first-place finish over several teams with big reputations in rowing, among them Dartmouth, Boston University, Rutgers and Fordham. The Yale Invitational has historically been nicknamed the “Demolition at Derby,” because with so many first-time racers, collisions are expected. But Mascia says his boat recovered impressively from its sole scuffle on the water.

“We were trapped between Fordham’s boat and a beach and we were whacking their boat. That slowed us down, but we were determined. We have a lot of racers on this team who are going to become great rowers.”

Rosenberg was equally impressed with her boat’s performance at Derby.

“We all raced well together. The novices have done a really good job. We [the recruits] are also novices, at least to college rowing!”

Charlotte Taft ’05 agreed with Rosenberg regarding both the “amazing” quality of Yale’s rowing Saturday and the value of a freshman crew team for both novices and recruits.

“The teaching goes both ways,” she said. “Everyone gets more comfortable everyday. As a recruit, I get a lot out of having to go over the strokes again. I’m learning to respect the sport in a new and different way.”

Taft stressed the importance of establishing a common mentality among the members of her team.

“Crew is great because you can almost quantify what you’re doing that helps the team.”

She looks forward to this winter as a chance to become closer with her teammates and more competitive with herself on the training machines.

“I think going into winter training we’re all going to get much stronger,” she said.

Mascia, wary that “winter training can get long and monotonous,” said he encourages his novice teammates to “stick with crew, because the more you row and get used to it, the better it gets.”