Crew teams aim for top-three finishes in end-of-season meets

Encouraging first-years on both sides look to push men, women to improved national performance

Contributing Writer
Friday, February 26, 2016

The men’s crew team pulls in unison at a team practice. After the men finished fourth at IRA nationals and the women won the Ivy League title last season, both teams hope for another successful spring season in 2016. The teams will open their seasons at the end of March; the women will travel to Princeton and the men will compete against Yale.

Both the men’s and women’s crew teams head into the spring season looking to build on last year’s success. The women eye a second consecutive Ivy League title and a podium berth at the NCAA Championships, while the men strive to improve on their fourth-place finish at Intercollegiate Rowing Association Nationals.

While men’s Head Coach Paul Cooke believes his team enjoyed a productive season last year, he hopes that a mix of energetic first-years and tested veterans will help springboard the team toward  a new plateau: the medal stand.

“I think last year was an interesting season because we were quite strong through the end of the year,” Cooke said. “But we were always in a position where we were just out of the limelight by not getting on the medal stand.”

Indeed, last year’s men’s team always seemed just on the verge of reaching its full potential, placing fourth overall in both the varsity and the third varsity eight grand final, as well as fourth in the Jim Ten Eyck Memorial Trophy, awarded to the school with the most team points.

One event where the team did find the podium was the Eastern Championships, in which Brown placed third in the Ivy League behind Yale and Princeton, respectively. But even that result proved unsatisfying for the team, as it finished only one-hundredth of a second behind Princeton for second place. Reflecting on the team’s performances last year, Cooke said, “frustrating isn’t the right word, because where we did end up was quite an achievement … but last season left the guys feeling like they wanted to do a little more.”

The men’s team has reason to be optimistic entering the 2016 season: Star rower Finn Meeks ’17 spent the summer leading the United States’ heavyweight eight boat to a silver medal in the U23 World Rowing Championships. Along with Meeks, much of the core of last year’s team has returned, and both Cooke and captain David Lazris ’17 expressed confidence in the younger members of the team to capably man the oars left empty by departing seniors. “We have a really strong incoming freshman class,” Lazris said. “One of the great things about this program is that every year, people always step up and take over for graduating teammates.”

Solid performances in the fall season at the Head and Tail of the Charles indicate that the team is headed in the right direction, and early reports from the team’s winter training session in Florida are entirely positive. “We have an indoor competition this weekend to see how our winter training has panned out, and I’m expecting to see some fast times,” Lazris said.

While the men look to improve this spring, the women hope to replicate last year’s success, which included an Ivy League Championship and the top ranking in the NCAA’s May 2015 CRCA/USRowing Coaches poll.

But don’t expect the women’s team to be satisfied with its accomplishments. “Rankings don’t necessarily mean who’s the best team in the country,” said rower Margaret Holler ’17. “What matters is who crosses the line first, and our ranking won’t matter until we win the NCAA Championships.”

Indeed, the NCAA Championships may have been the lone arena in which the women’s team did not live up to its lofty, victorious standards. The Bears finished third out of the 22 teams competing, their second straight third-place finish.

The women’s team enters the season with the goal of winning an NCAA Championship, though they have stiff competition in Ohio State, which has won three straight national titles. But the team is focusing on itself rather than expending energy on opponents or rankings. “We are always holding ourselves to a really high standard, and we aren’t going to be happy until we meet that standard,” Holler said. “You can’t change what people think. You can only affect how hard you train and work, so we are internal in that regard.”

That focus has served the women well to start the season: The team won early-season events at the Head of the Housatonic and the Head of the Charles. And there is no reason to believe that these performances are fleeting, as the team is strong from top to bottom and has a particularly impactful group of freshman rowers.

The women begin their spring season March 26 at Princeton with Ohio State, while the men open March 25 against Yale.

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