Not only are they up before the sun, but while you are still rolling around in your warm bed, the Vassar rowing squad is working hard lifting weights, doing cardio and entering the cold water of the Hudson River. After a canceled meet the week prior, the fall rowing season began on Oct. 10 when the Brewers traveled to Derby, Conn. for the Head of the Housatonic Regatta. Held on the Housatonic River, the meet began Head Coach Shawn Turner’s career at Vassar. Turner is coming off a four year stint at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. where he was the assistant men’s and women’s rowing coach as well as a voter on the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA) Division III Poll. “I came from Hamilton last year which is 3rd in NCAAs, so I know the standard we have to get to, which is just taking them there one step at a time,” said Turner.
Junior captain Andrew Wang spoke to the renewed energy Turner has brought to Vassar rowing, “Our regatta at West Point, initially scheduled for Oct. 3, was canceled due to Hurricane Joaquin, causing our team to miss a prime racing opportunity before Housatonic. Our team has also lost nearly a week of water practice due to the volatile conditions of the Hudson River. Through it all, our team has flourished under the new leadership of Coach Turner and returning Assistant Coach Kate Brownson. Our practices are more efficient and designed to isolate technique work on the water. Vassar Rowing has emerged from October break a more cohesive and competitive team, pumped for our last regatta of the fall season on Halloween.”
Junior Lucas Kautz described his experience at the event, “This was my first year racing at the Head of the Housatonic and my first year racing in the both the men’s varsity 4+ and men’s varsity 8+. Overall, this was one of the stronger races in the men’s 8+ I have been involved in.”
This year is one of the more challenging years for the varsity team as this was the first varsity race for seven of the eight rowers in the varsity men’s 8+, including one of their novice rowers, freshman Alex Goff. Kautz continued, “Our coxswain, Janet Ortiz, did exceptionally well with both technical calls and steering through the lengthy 2.7 mile course. Coxswains are one of the most important members of the team through these longer head races as their ability to provide constant encouragement and precision steering can make or break a race for individual boats. The men’s varsity 4+ showed amazing energy having raced only a few hours prior with the men’s varsity 8+. Due to the strong efforts in the 4+, we beat University of Connecticut’s A boat and trailed RPI by only 17 seconds.”
Wang described the team’s competition opener, “[The Head of the Housatonic] is a head race: boats are called to a staggered start and compete for time. It is also a wet launch regatta meaning there are no docks, requiring rowers to walk into shallow water and climb in their boats.” The course is 4.4km (2.7 miles) and is one of the longer races the team will face this year.
Turner is excited to build on the team’s premiere performance, commenting: “For us it was the first race we went to, my first race since I’ve been here actually. Race wise, we didn’t do as particularly well as we would have liked, but we weren’t bad. We finished near the back in everything. But I think what we did do is we figured out how to race. We’re still kind of learning that stretch of things after last year.”
The Brewers’ next opportunity to build on their initial performance will be at the Head of Fish. Wang elaborated on the event, “[The race] is a regatta held on the last weekend of October each year on Fish Creek in Saratoga County, New York State. (Winners are aptly awarded lacquered fish heads.) It takes place this year on Halloween. We expect to be competing with many of the same crews at Housatonic.”
Senior captain Elena Riecke explained the team’s plan to prepare for the Head of Fish, “We’ve been on a six day a week practice schedule since classes started this semester, plus extra on land practices on the ergs. This year has been about getting in a lot of meters during practice and re-working technique so that all of the people in the boat are on the same page. The technique part is seriously no small feat, because some of us on the team are on our third head coach at Vassar—so as you can tell there’s definitely some variation going on there. The varsity team was also getting in two practices a day during October break.”
Inexperience has been a huge issue for Vassar rowing in the past, Turner explained, “At New York State Championships Vassar placed last in four out of five events. And third to last I think in the other. So they had a rough year, they didn’t get out on the water that much… They only got three weeks of practice time on the water before the races started, so I think that was the defining factor for their team.”
With all the hard work the team has been putting in, Turner and the team expect to see great improvement this season. Riecke gushed, “Rowing has been a part of my Vassar experience since my freshman orientation, and I really can’t imagine life without it. It’s a group of incredibly passionate and hardworking people, most of whom have stuck around when they walked into college not even knowing that the seat in a boat moves (it does). We give up a lot to be on the team—a lot of it is normal athlete sacrifice, like staying in the night before a competition, but we also sacrifice things like going to UpC or Jazz Night because we’re usually up at 4:45 in the morning… Practices run for two hours six mornings a week. On the water we work on technique, drills and power pieces for sometimes over 12,000 meters per practice.”
Turner echoed her sentiments, saying “My favorite part of the year, and this is almost always the case, is the kids… It takes a special group to want to wake up as early as we do—we finish by the time most people start their days. We’re finishing our erg workout when everybody else is starting their day with Cam. We start at 5:30 on some of those days. It’s been great, just watching them get faster.”