Women's rowing dominates over BU in lone home regatta

by Anna May Mott | 4/22/19 2:15am

The women’s rowing team raced their first and last home regatta last weekend against Boston University. It’s the only weekend this spring season they have to represent the Big Green on the Connecticut in front of friends and supporters, so naturally the team wanted to deliver a good result. And did they ever.

The team swept every race. The day started with a first-place finish from the first varsity eight, beating out BU by over seven seconds, and ended with lengths of open water and a 30-second buffer between Dartmouth’s victorious B four and the Terriers. 

According to V8 coxswain Katie Erdos ’20, the team went into this race confident, despite a few disappointing performances over the past couple weeks. At the Doc Hosea Invitational at the end of March, the first and second varsity eights failed to make the grand final, and at the Ivy League Invitational on April 7, both boats came in fourth in the race for the Class of 1984 Plaque. The team wasn’t discouraged by these results, however, because rowing for a school in New Hampshire comes with some innate disadvantages at the start of the spring season — namely, a frozen river.

Dartmouth’s first few races this spring season frequently followed long stretches of time off the water, and they lined up against some teams who have thawed rivers all winter long. Over the past few weeks, the team has spent practices in the freezing cold, dodging ice chunks and logs and fighting a powerful current from the open dam. Last weekend, the Connecticut River was in typical “spring in Hanover” form, with races delayed due to heavy fog and floating debris. But this time, the weather played to the Big Green’s favor — or at least, it left BU scrambling to adjust. 

“One thing we’ve held onto this whole season is like, ‘Okay, let’s control what we can control,’ and the conditions aren’t in our control,” Erdos said. “So, it’s nice that we were at home, we were ready for it, versus BU was probably like ‘What is going on? There’s a giant log floating down the course!’” 

Typically, regattas are scheduled to prioritize the team’s fastest boats — that is, the first varsity eights — and give them the most ideal racing weather. This means these boats usually race first, as conditions tend to deteriorate throughout the day. Last weekend, however, the lightweight men were set to race before the women but had their races delayed by over an hour due to thick fog and low visibility. This meant that by the time the women’s B four raced, those deteriorating conditions they’d hoped to avoid hit them full force.

“The other three races that went on, the conditions were actually perfect, then all of a sudden we had huge gusts of winds that must have been like 10 or 15 miles an hour, and there were white caps,” B four coxswain Sophie Kwon ’22 said. “It was a little bit stressful, but my rowers handled it really well. So, conditions were livable.”

They certainly did handle it well. A win by more than 30 seconds is far from typical, especially in 2,000-meter pieces, which, for a four, were usually under eight minutes. It’s a very different experience, rowing a race without another boat right next to you, especially considering rowers race with their backs to the finish line, watching the competition fall behind. Frequently, coxswains will call moves and sprints by reacting to the pushes of other teams, and competitive spirit drives their rowers to pull harder. But in a race with an open water lead, the boat needs to find something else to motivate them.

“One thing that really helped was calling for ‘working together,’” Kwon said. “Everyone did a really good job of maintaining the energy, and moving together, and pulling for the people in our own boat rather than against the people that we were racing.”

The Big Green’s B four pulled away in the first few seconds with a powerful starting sequence and put the nail in BU’s coffin with an unquestionable lead by the 1,000-meter mark. 

As for the team’s outlook going forward, last weekend served as a confidence booster and possibly a glimpse at the speed they have to gain now that the Connecticut has thawed, and forecasts are improving. Weathr is always an unpredictable factor in rowing; a portion of the team traveled to South Carolina this week only to have their races canceled by tornado warnings. But Dartmouth’s competition has only seen a fraction of their potential, as they simply just haven’t had the time or the weather to practice as much as their southern competition. As the season progresses and conditions stabilize, the Big Green will see new opportunities open for them.

“One thing that’s an advantage for us is we continue to get better and improve well into the season, versus some teams find their max speed midway through,” Erdos said. “It’s kind of fun to be an underdog.”

Correction appended (April 22, 2019): The original title of this article said that Dartmouth defeated Harvard in its home regatta, when the team actually defeated Boston University. The title has been updated to reflect this.