After early success, heavyweight rowing struggles against Yale and Boston University

by Elijah Czysz | 4/22/19 2:10am


The heavyweight rowing team fell just short in the Bill Cup at Boston University this weekend.

Source: Courtesy of Marc Sevastopoulo

The Dartmouth men’s heavyweight rowing team began its season with a resounding victory in Worcester, MA over the College of the Holy Cross, Columbia University and the Massachussetts Institute of Technology. The Big Green still face an uphill battle this season against other league opponents, having lost to Yale University in all five races Saturday, April 13.

The two competitions could not have differed more drastically. In the April 6 season opener, Dartmouth placed first in every race at the Alumni Cup in Worchester. Better yet, the Big Green took first and second in every race with two Dartmouth boats competing. 

However, the victory in Worcester had little predictive power when it comes to the remaining season. 2019 marks Dartmouth’s fifth consecutive sweep of the Alumni Cup. Between Dartmouth’s consistent domination in the regatta and its early position in the schedule, the results do not provide a clear picture of this season’s direction.

“It’s so early, it’s hard to tell,” men’s heavyweight rowing head coach Wyatt Allen said after the opening weekend. “I don’t think this weekend is a great indication of how fast or how slow we are.”

After the Alumni Cup, the Big Green’s schedule is much more challenging. 

“Every week it’s a test,” Allen said. “We need to find five seconds between now and our championship regattas.” 

According to Allen, cutting five seconds from the first and second varsity boats’ times would put the Big Green in a position to be in the “top 10 crews in the country.” 

Dartmouth has found itself in the top 10 at points for the past three years since Allen took over as head coach, but this year his goal is to push the team to a top six position.

“That is going to come through our skills improving as we gain water time, us as a coaching staff getting the guys into the right lineups … and fine-tuning the race execution,” Allen said.

Water time is always a challenging factor for college crews in the Northeast, especially in comparison to West Coast schools that can get on the water sooner in the spring season. Being in the cold of New Hampshire, the men’s heavyweight rowing team has had a particularly long wait for the Connecticut River to thaw.

Allen said that the team took two training trips south — one to Florida in December and one to South Carolina for spring break — and spent a weekend after spring break on the water in Boston, but it still comes into the spring season at a disadvantage. 

“It’s been a pretty late spring for us, in terms of getting on the water,” Allen said.

Even with the expected rate of improvement now that the team has more practice time on the water, a five-second improvement is still a lot to ask of the crew.

The Big Green saw some of the improvement Allen was looking for in its race against Yale according to men’s heavyweight captain Marc Sevastopoulo ’19. 

“There are sections of the race that each of the crews would have liked to perform better in,” Sevastopoulo said. “We’re not where we want to be — we haven’t achieved that full five seconds that [Allen] alluded to — but we are seeing progress.”

The race against Yale was a prime example of Dartmouth’s difficult spring schedule. Two-time defending national champion Yale swept Dartmouth in all five races of the “Olympic Axe” on April 13. Yale bested the First Varsity 8 boat was bested by an 11.2-second margin and the Second Varsity 8 by a smaller 5.6 seconds.  

However, Dartmouth’s margins are respectable considering Yale’s prowess this season. The University of California, which finished third in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships last year, fell to Yale by over seven seconds on April 7. This makes Dartmouth’s second boat’s 5.6-second margin look somewhat promising, considering the Big Green finished the 2018 season in 10th place overall. 

Sevastopoulo, who was on the second boat, cited a strong first 1000m, an effective combination of rowers and a mature outlook when competing with a strong Yale team. 

No matter what, the rest of the season will be competitive. According to Allen, the ranks of the fifth through 13th best schools in the nation will constantly be shuffling.

“Tenths of a second are going to make a big difference in our standings at the end of the year,” said Allen.

While Yale may be its stiffest competition, Dartmouth’s schedule does not ease up after this weekend. This past weekend, Dartmouth faced Boston University in the Bill Cup. Every race was close, but the first three Dartmouth boats were bested by the Terriers by two-to-three second margins. The fourth varsity boat took home the sole victory of the weekend, edging out BU by four-tenths of a second.

Next weekend, Dartmouth has back-to-back races. The first is against Brown University, which finished seventh in 2018 and the second is against Syracuse University, which finished ninth.

On May 19, Dartmouth is back in Worcester for the Ivy League Championship — a new regatta running concurrently with the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) Sprints. There, Dartmouth will again face Brown, Columbia and Yale. According to Allen, Harvard University and Princeton University will also pose a strong challenge to the Big Green. In 2018, Harvard finished fourth and Princeton fifth in the first varsity boat Grand Final.

Finally, Thursday, May 30 through Saturday June 1, Dartmouth will travel to Gold River, CA for the IRA National Championships.