Following clean sweeps in its first two regattas of the year, the No. 2 Yale lightweight crew team carries momentum into the spring season.
The Bulldogs launched their spring season on April 1, triumphing against Naval Academy for the Johnson Cup at Lake Carnegie, New Jersey. This season opener was followed by a sweeping victory at home against MIT and Georgetown on April 8, when the Bulldogs not only won the first varsity race but also the second and third. Looking ahead to the rest of season, the Elis look to build on momentum from this year and last year.
“The strength of the team is that we’re deep,” captain Noah Baily ’17 said. “I knew that before these two weekends. We have a very reliable team, a very driven team, and we have a competitive team.”
The team’s depth provides an edge against tight competition. Coxswain Ashley Wu ’17, a freshman year walk-on and former sports reporter for the News, pointed out that lightweight crew is a sport that is inherently competitive due to its strict weight requirements. The athletes of every team are similar in height and size because of the 160-pound weight limit, so the differences between teams’ performances come down to very subtle technical details.
According to multiple teammates, the Bulldogs’ personal relationships and deep sense of commitment to each other has pushed them above the parity of their conference opponents.
“One of the things that makes our team fast is how committed we are to one another as people, not just as athletes,” oarsman Adam Straus-Goldfarb ’17 said. “We definitely have a lot of people on the roster, but it feels like a small team. I’ve developed a personal relationship with every athlete on the roster.”
That the team has managed to become close despite its lengthy roster is impressive: The 2016–17 Bulldogs boast one of the team’s largest rosters in recent memory. This year’s 43 athletes comprise the first roster with over 40 members since 2012 and give the Elis the opportunity to field a fifth boat of eight rowers. Due to the squad’s size, the 11-member senior class has stepped up to the leadership role, according to Baily.
“We have flexibility,” he said. “We take as many guys as demonstrate that they’re contributing. If we have [a lot of] guys that are contributing, I don’t view that as a managerial stress. That makes my life easier because we have more guys pushing everyone to be better and to be faster.”
In addition to the team’s high retention rate, a number of walk-on rowers and coxswains have contributed to the team’s growth, according to multiple team members. Every coxswain currently on the roster began his or her career as a walk on, distinguishing the lightweight team from the heavyweight crew, which regularly recruits coxswains.
Commodore William Van Fossen ’17 explained that the team’s success has sparked a positive feedback loop which results in both high retention and increased numbers of walk-on athletes.
“Last year and this year, we’ve had a great team culture,” Eric Esposito ’17 said. “The younger guys coming in last year and this year have been able to push the guys up at the top.”
The 2015–16 Bulldog squad set a high bar of success for this year’s team. The Varsity Eight swept all seven of its regular-season races, capping off its undefeated campaign with a runner-up finish at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship in Mercer County Park, New Jersey.
Despite these high expectations, the current Eli crew has thus far replicated its success, sweeping all competition so far. The Bulldogs have three weekends of regattas remaining before racing at the Eastern Sprints, the league championship regatta in Worchester, Massachusetts, and the IRA national championship on Lake Natoma in central California.
“To me, the feeling of having every single athlete on our team on the medal dock together is the pinnacle of full-team success,” Straus-Goldfarb said. “I’m looking forward to having the same experience this year.”
The Bulldogs will compete against Columbia and Penn at home for the Dodge Cup on Saturday.