Nancy LaRocque named women’s rowing head coach

by Emily Lu | 6/26/20 3:00am

Source: Courtesy of Nancy LaRocque

Nancy LaRocque — who most recently served as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator of the women’s rowing program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — has been named as the new women’s rowing head coach for the Big Green. She will replace Kelly Harris, who served as interim head coach during the 2019-2020 season after Wendy Bordeau stepped down from her head coaching post last summer. LaRocque has coached collegiate rowing for 17 years and guided multiple Division I programs to national recognition. 

UW-Madison has an esteemed rowing program, and LaRocque said she was mentored by and learned from an experienced coaching staff. But as a New Hampshire native who was already interested in pursuing a head coaching position, the vacancy at Dartmouth presented an opportunity to LaRocque that she could not refuse.

“It was a real no brainer when I got the offer,” LaRocque said.

Dartmouth’s search for a new rowing coach was broad and thorough, but LaRocque rose to the top of the pack. According to associate athletics director of varsity sports Jen Chuks, over 50 candidates applied for the head coaching position, but LaRocque stood out with her “deep background and experience in the coaching world” and references that said she was “extremely trustworthy and well-respected.” Chuks also said that LaRocque is someone who “is going to be [at the College] for a long time,” which will bring consistency to a program that has seen three different head coaches in the past four years. 

“I hope that with her being here, there's going to be consistency in the program and prove to the team that the program is valued ... to have someone [who] is going to be here and be trustworthy and a part of the community,” Chuks said. 

In LaRocque’s seven years in Wisconsin, the Badgers reached the NCAA championship six times. UW-Madison head coach Bebe Bryans said that LaRocque’s positivity and ability to connect with athletes “made her impactful.”

“Her personality sort of makes it personal. It's not just the coach speaking down to athletes — it's almost like ‘we're in this together,’” Bryans said. “There's a lot of coaches out there with knowledge and skill, [but] it's the ability to put that in a message that resonates with the athletes that you're coaching ... that makes her really good.”

Prior to coaching at UW-Madison, LaRocque served as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee. LaRocque also led the transition of West Virginia University’s club rowing program to a Division I program, helping the team to nationally-ranked status in just three years.

Big Green rower Sophie Stone ’21 said that she is excited about LaRocque’s commitment to creating a “positive culture of high performance and accountability” in the program. Stone added that there have been challenges with the team and that she is looking forward to a clean slate under LaRocque.

“I'm really excited to get to build something that will be a little bit more lasting,” Stone said. “I'm feeling really privileged that I get to have my senior year as a part of this process and get to help establish something that my grade can look back on like 15 years later and be like, ‘yeah, that's pretty cool.’” 

LaRocque said that she has begun meeting with the team as well as individual athletes over Zoom, and is setting goals of returning to the NCAA Championship within the next two seasons. The Big Green qualified for the NCAA tournament most recently in 2011. 

As president of the board of directors of the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association, which formed a committee on diversity, equity and inclusion this month, LaRocque said that she is also focused on “keeping [the sport of women’s rowing] growing and moving forward.”

“Everyone's always welcome wherever I'm coaching but just that is not enough,” LaRocque said. “So personally, I'm really going to take advantage of all the information that's getting pulled out now to be a better steward of our sport and help serve those underserved communities with the sport.” 

LaRocque added that while diversifying collegiate teams will likely be a multi-year process, she plans on going the extra mile while looking at recruits.   

“Coaches are just normally like ‘I'm on the lookout for fast kids,’ but [now I would] maybe [do] a little bit more research on some potential kids that might come out of more underserved communities,” LaRocque said. 

As a coach, LaRocque said she focuses on respecting the individuality of athletes and their pace of progress. She said she takes it upon herself to push athletes out of their comfort zones and help them discover the extent of their potential. 

LaRocque also said that she is a proponent of using services to address mental health, and she was impressed with the resources offered by Dartmouth Peak Performance, which includes access to academic support and sports psychologists. 

“I think the attention to detail of making sure the athletes feel loved and taken care of and supported is a big part of being a student-athlete,” LaRocque said. “There's just a lot of resources available for [them at Dartmouth], so I feel like it's a place where we can be successful.”