Heavyweight rowing sees young additions in top boat

by Justin Kramer | 4/9/18 2:20am

The varsity eight for Dartmouth men’s heavyweight rowing has a new look this season with a trio of freshmen and a mix of three sophomores and a junior replacing their five departed rowers. The crew’s three freshmen, Caleb Edmundson ’21, Evan Dwinell ’21 and Paul Gralla ’21, form an atypically young roster as Austin Heye ’18, Noah Van Dyke ’18 and coxswain Jake Rauh ’18 are the only upperclassmen who have consistently filled varsity eight slots this season.

“I think that [the freshmen have] outperformed our expectations in the fall, which was a really pleasant surprise,” head coach Wyatt Allen said. “That’s created some pressure for them, both within the team and amongst our league as well. I think they’re learning to deal with that pressure, and every week is going to be a test for them.”

“The three are all showing incredible potential, which we are all excited about,” co-captain Heye said. “They seem to latch onto our culture, which has been great for both us and them.”

Heye provided some additional background on the three freshmen and their progress this season, starting with Gralla, a highly coveted recruit from Germany.

“He’s been a great addition,” Heye said. “It’s cool to see the German style of rowing integrated into our program.”

Dwinell is a product of Tallahassee, Florida, where he competed in eight-rower boats. He took a year off polishing his skills in Sarasota before coming to Dartmouth, allowing him to build a strong technical foundation.

“That one year I got through a single, and I got to work a lot on little technical things,” Dwinell said. “It helped bridge the gap between high school and college.”

The third freshman, Edmundson, has been an impressive addition for the Big Green after coming from a lesser-known program in Greenwich, Connecticut.

“We like to get those guys from lesser-known programs since they have a chip on their shoulders,” Heye said. “They’re a little hungrier, which [Edmundson] certainly is.”

Dwinell, Edmundson and Gralla have each had to make significant adjustments when making the transition to collegiate rowing.

For Dwinell, the biggest contrast comes in the format of college races. The one-on-one NCAA spring format is different from high school six-boat races.

“If you got down in high school, you had four other boats to try and push off of, but in college, if you’re down on the one boat you’re competing against, you’re suddenly way behind,” Dwinell said. “It’s a lot more emotional, it’s a lot more mental and it’s a different ballgame for sure.”

Coach Allen laid out his hopes for improvement among the freshman class.

“[For] the class as a whole, there’s some pretty green guys in there, so there’s a lot of room for improvement technically,” Allen said. “Beyond that, just building confidence, learning to row their race. Their rhythm under pressure is going to be really important.”

Heye added that each race is different and has a huge learning curve, so the freshmen are learning more after each race.

Dwinell, Edmundson and Gralla are part of an improved recruitment effort this season, as 13 freshmen have joined the fold across the four competing varsity boats. Allen believes the team’s ninth place finish last year in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta and its positive trajectory have been key in the recruitment process.

“Two or three years ago, we were selling a vision of what we could be, and now we have a little bit of traction towards what that vision was and what that vision still is,” Allen said.

While the trio of varsity eight freshmen have maintained spots through the first two spring races, Allen remains open to changing the boats each week.

“We will continue to [make changes] and that happens up and down the boat rankings, so our 1V will change, our 2V will change, our 3V will change, our 4V will change,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of internal competition for seats and these guys are battling it out week after week to make their way into that top boat.”

The ongoing process of picking boats is a challenging task, and Dwinell, Edmundson and Gralla had to work hard through the team’s taxing evaluation to earn their varsity eight spots. Allen detailed the full process, including seat racing, in which combinations of rowers are mixed between two boats and the times are compared.

“Guys start out in their initial seatings based on their body of work,” Allen said. “From there, we do a lot of seat racing, which is pretty common in our sport. Seat racing isn’t a perfect science; sometimes you get eight guys together that really click and really move well, and you stick with that combination.”

For Dwinell, finally getting outside after winter training on the ergometer has been a long-awaited development.

“Logistically it’s not that big of a difference, but mentally it’s hard because you’re doing the same amount of minutes as you would if you were outside on the water, except for the fact that you’re inside looking at a screen instead of outside looking at trees,” Dwinell said. “You don’t have that relief of being outside on a boat; you’re stuck inside a room. We’re into the fun part, so it’s all worth it.”

The team’s winter training has seemed to pay off early as they swept at the Alumni Cup to open their season.

“We’re one race in, and we were really happy to get the win last week, but it really takes three or four weeks of racing to figure out exactly where you are in the field,” Allen said before the weekend. “I think our guys were happy to have a good team day last week on the Charles, but I think they’re still pretty hungry to go out and test themselves against the best.”

Indeed, Dartmouth took on defending champions Yale University this past weekend in their second race of the season. Their varsity eight stroked admirably, finishing less than three seconds behind the Bulldogs.

“Going into that race, we stressed that margin matters,” Heye said. “We weren’t necessarily going out looking for a win, but trying to get as close to their finish time as possible.”

Despite the loss, Dwinell was encouraged by how close the team finished against one of the best teams in the nation.

“We were all pretty shocked at how close we were,” Dwinell said. “Eventually, we broke them, even though they were about to break us, and we could do whatever we wanted at the end there. That was a really incredible feeling; I think that’s the first time I’ve felt that in a long time, definitely in college.”

As the young Big Green varsity eight look toward their first home race versus Boston University and the rest of the season, they have their eyes set on qualifying for the Sprints finals and the IRA Championship Regatta.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but I think it’s attainable for this group,” Allen said. “From the 1V down to the 4V, I think they have the ability if they maximize their potential and things go our way with racing [to] be a top-six group in the country.”