Wendy Bordeau returns as women’s rowing coach
The women's rowing team finished as high as third in the Ivy League in 2011 but has ranked sixth or lower four times in the past five seasons.
Wendy Bordeau will return to the helm of women’s rowing in the 2017-18 season following the resignation of women’s rowing head coach Linda Muri. Bordeau previously coached the team from 2005 to 2014 before leaving to become senior associate athletics director for varsity sports.
“I love coaching. I love working with student athletes, and that passion and that desire has not dissipated at all,” Bordeau said.
Muri’s departure in late June surprised many on the team, according to team members Natalie Knight ’19 and Rebecca Conway ’19.
“As far as we knew, we didn’t expect her to leave, and she hadn’t really said anything about that,” Conway said.
Conway and Knight said that the team learned of Muri’s resignation in a June 26 email from executive associate athletics director for varsity sports Brian Austin.
“He passed along a message from [Muri] that she had written to the team basically telling us that she has decided to step away from coaching for now and that she’s enjoyed the time she spent with the team and will continue living in the area,” Knight said.
The athletic department released a statement from Muri on June 27 confirming her resignation. Muri had coached the team since the 2014-15 season, leading the Big Green to a victory over Cornell University in the Parents’ Cup and a second-place finish at the 2015 Eastern Women’s Sprint Championships.
In the release announcing Muri’s departure, the athletic department stated, “a national search for a new head coach will begin immediately.” Within three days, the search was over, and Bordeau’s return was announced.
Bordeau coached the team from 2005 to 2014. During Bordeau’s tenure, the Big Green qualified for the NCAA Championship in 2007, 2009 and 2011. The 2009 visit marked the first time since 1998 that the entire Dartmouth team qualified for the championship.
While Bordeau found her three years spent as senior associate athletics director to be a valuable experience, the allure of coaching never left her.
“I always felt the tug to go back to coaching,” Bordeau said. “I wasn’t sure how or when that would happen, or if it would happen, but ultimately, I realized that I’m a coach at heart. What excites me most is having direct contact with players.”
The day Bordeau’s return was announced, according to Conway and Knight, Austin and Bordeau met with rowers on campus.
“[Bordeau] called us in right away the day we found out she was being hired and she sat us all down in a circle, introduced herself and shared her goals,” Conway said. “I think that says a lot about her coaching style, which is immediately she wanted to clear the air, introduce herself, where are we going, how are we going to get there, and just was very direct about it from the beginning which is phenomenal.”
Experience from Bordeau’s earlier stint with the team will inform her decision-making.
“The fact that I coached for almost ten years here means I know how to confront the challenges here and meet them,” Bordeau said.
Dartmouth’s unique challenges, according to Bordeau, include the Dartmouth Plan, which can interrupt training plans for individual athletes, and the length of the winter season, which reduces the time the team can spend on the water.
It can take time for a new coach to build a relationship with a team and align the team behind a particular vision, said Knight. That process may not have been completed before Muri resigned.
“With any coaching change, there will be a period of uncertainty, and coaching styles can be hugely different, so there was definitely a period of adjustment under [Muri],” Knight said. “I think it takes a long time for a new coach to have the team totally behind their style, so I don’t know that three years for [Muri] was enough to really make her coaching style stick.”
Muri, a nine-time U.S. National Team member and three-time world champion herself, focused on training technically sound rowers, according to Knight.
“We row really well, and [Muri] put a big emphasis on that, which I think is lost these days in a lot of programs where everybody’s so focused on being strong and going fast,” Knight said. “Moving forward, that technical groundwork that she’s set for us will make a big difference.”
Bordeau will take the helm of a program which has slipped since she left the coaching ranks. In 2014, Bordeau’s last year as coach, the Big Green finished fifth in the Ivy League Championship, beating the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Cornell. With Muri at the helm, Dartmouth finished seventh in 2015, sixth in 2016 and last in 2017.
“Last spring, we had kind of a rough season — we were eighth in the Ivies — and I think that was a surprise to us,” Conway said. “We trained eight times a week, and you don’t want to do that all spring and be last in your league.”
Bordeau has approached the challenges facing the team with a frank mindset.
“My first task is to learn about the athletes on the team and figure out how we want to approach rebuilding the program... and I’m looking to collaborate with them,” she said.
According to Knight, that process has already begun. In the two weeks since her move was announced, Bordeau has communicated with team members to learn about both their personal and rowing backgrounds.
“Wendy’s definitely pushing us in the direction of we’re going to keep working hard, and we’re going to be getting in a lot of meters, but I think everyone on the team is 100 percent ready to do that if it leads to results,” Conway said.
Knight said Bordeau has already succeeded in communicating her vision for the program’s improvement to the sophomores on campus.
“[Bordeau] so far has articulated the goals in a way that makes them very clear to the team, which is a really important step for everybody to have the same goals and make sure everybody’s moving in the same direction together,” Knight said.