Saturday’s weather provided little incentive to go outside — with New Haven’s streets familiarly flooded and leaves littering the sidewalks, the day’s storm stirred visions of colder days ahead.
Even so, Yale’s crew teams took to the water for their first event of the fall season, the Head of the Housatonic, held on their home waters at the Gilder Boathouse in Derby. Crews reported a stiff tailwind with underdeveloped chop on the river aside from the driving rain. Despite the conditions, head races were held from 10 a.m. until 3:45 p.m.
The Bulldogs won all four events they entered: the women’s open and novice eight and the men’s open and novice eight. The competition was mostly an opportunity for the Elis to test the early season speed of their new line-ups, but each event was closely contested.
The women’s team, the only female squad with three boats entered in each of their races, faced an unexpected challenge from Northeastern in the varsity event. Coming off of a seventh place overall finish at the NCAA Rowing Championships last May and returning two All-Americans, Maria Stevens ’06 and Rachel Jeffers ’07, the Bulldogs won by nearly three seconds in the three mile race. The Elis were grateful for the challenge, however.
“Northeastern put up a very, very good time in the varsity boat,” Stevens said. “We were glad to have the competition — it helps us to get faster for the Head of the Charles and any opportunity to race is a pretty good deal.”
The men’s events had a more intrasquad flavor — half of the entrants in each event were Yale boats. The Bulldogs entered two lightweight teams and two heavyweight teams per race. In each, the lightweights came out on top, edging the heavyweights in the varsity race by less than a second.
The lightweight team is the reigning national champion, having won its third title in six years last spring. With the majority of the varsity boat returning, the lightweights have one of the fastest established collegiate crews. In contrast, the heavyweight team lost 14 seniors to graduation and fielded a crew that had limited experience together.
“The crew that rowed Saturday only rowed three times before the race,” heavyweight head coach John Pescatore said. “The biggest thing for these guys is they need more time in this line-up and they’ll immediately get faster.”
Rowing is a sport heavily dependant on both physical conditioning and technical skill. Rowers must be fit in order to have a favorable efficiency ratio, and they must have practiced enough to execute consistently on the water. At this early stage of the season, the focus for all three teams is building cohesiveness among the eight oarsmen on each boat.
The heavyweight team has taken care of one of these factors already, entering the fall with a high level of fitness.
“These guys are already in pretty good shape and they’re really motivated,” Pescatore said. “There’ll be a little bit of a conditioning improvement but mostly it is just time in the boat together.”
Instead of fitness, heavyweight captain John Petersen ’06 said his team will be emphasizing skills in order to prepare for the upcoming Head of the Charles regatta.
“We’re trying to work on the complete stroke — half the stroke is complete power and half the stroke is complete relaxation,” he said. “Staying composed and relaxed is just as important as pulling really hard.”
The Head of the Charles is one of the most prestigious regattas the Bulldogs enter all year. And since the race takes place in crew-happy Boston, following the heavily-trafficked Memorial Drive in many places, it also has more spectators than usual. Some of the best teams from all over the world enter the open event. Last year’s medalists included Cambridge University and the Dutch Rowing Federation.
The Head of the Charles is an immediate goal for Yale crews, but they all have their sights set on the championship spring season.
“We’re just working on our rowing and getting better as a team,” Jeffers said. “It’s a long season — we’re just making our first steps right now.”
Similarly, the lightweights avoided drawing any conclusions from the Head of the Housatonic or building expectations.
“The race serves as a reminder that we need to continue working hard regardless of a positive or negative result,” lightweight captain Joe Fallon ’06 wrote in an e-mail. “We just want to see how fast we can possibly go.”