While many students fled to tropical waters over spring break, the men’s and women’s crew teams could also be found near water — albeit much colder water. Capitalizing on the respite from classes, the teams spent the majority of break preparing for the upcoming months.
All three squads officially begin their spring racing season this weekend, as the women’s lightweight and heavyweight crew teams take on conference teams throughout New England.
The women already have one regatta under their belt. With only four days of water practice, the team traveled to Tennessee for their first test of the season: the Cardinal Invitational in Oakridge, Tennessee. According to captain Nina Demmerle ’15, the team’s inability to practice on the frozen Housatonic River led to an increased fitness level.
“The weather was frustrating at times, but it did allow us to extend our winter training and increase our fitness,” Demmerle said. “We got on the water a bit later than usual this year but it has helped us hit the ground running. As we transition to the water, we need to make sure we transfer our winter training mentality to the water.”
At least for the first regatta, the transfer was successful. The No. 9 women’s team took on eight other schools in the regatta, and the Bulldogs finished second behind No. 2 Virginia. The finish was due in large part to a strong start that saw all five of Yale’s boats — first and second varsity fours and eights, and a novice eight — win their first races on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Cardinal Invitational allowed the women to face teams from outside their conference, the Eastern Association of Women’s Rowing Colleges. In addition to the Cavaliers, Yale rowed against two other top-20 teams: No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Louisville.
But the women’s greatest competition could very well come from within the EAWRC, which contains all eight Ivy League teams. The league winner automatically qualifies to the NCAA Tournament, with at-large bids possible for ranked teams in the division. Last season, which saw Princeton pull off an upset to win the championship, Brown and Harvard also joined the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament.
Yale’s absence marked the first time in 12 years that the team had not qualified to the national competition.
“We didn’t make it to NCAAs last year for the first time in a long time,” Demmerle said. “Every race this season is an opportunity to get this team back on track, and that is what we are looking to do.”
The men’s lightweight team is also looking to return to form. After entering last year’s Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship ranked second in the country, the Bulldogs came in fourth overall.
The IRA Championship serves as a stand-in for the NCAA Tournament, as men’s crew has not elected to be recognized by the NCAA as an official sport.
“We take things one race at a time,” lightweight captain Matt Cecil ’15 said. “We are always looking forward to the next race the most. Races are so few that it would be a negligent to overlook any of them.”
Last fall, the Elis finished seventh at the famed Head of the Charles regatta before concluding the season with a varsity runner-up performance at the Princeton Chase behind Cornell.
Since then, the team has turned to the gym and the erg machine in an attempt to trim time off of its races.
“All teams spend the winter trying to get in better physical shape to more effectively execute their race plans,” Cecil said. “That is the biggest difference between the fall and spring.”
With three races on the Housatonic this season, the lightweights can look forward to more races at home than either of the other teams.
The heavyweights, on the other hand, race in Derby, Connecticut only once.
“The most important races every year are the Eastern Sprints regatta, the IRA [national] championship and the Yale-Harvard regatta, and our training all season is focused on peaking for those races,” heavyweight captain Lyon Van Voorhis ’15 said.
The three races, which occur within four weeks of each other, are the final races of the heavyweights’ season.
Van Voorhis also acknowledged the difficulty of having less time on the river, but said the team was productive while indoors and transferred to the water well.
“Our goal as a team is to be the fastest boathouse in the country. That means success not just for the varsity boat but in all boat classes,” Van Voorhis said.
All three crew teams will race on Saturday. The women take on Ivy foes Penn and Columbia in pursuit of the Connell Cup in New Jersey. The lightweights will also be in the Garden State, racing Navy for the Johnson Cup. The heavyweights face Brown in Providence, Rhode Island.