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A Crew Team Salute to a Strong Athletic Tradition

Julie Matthews, PhD and Suzanne Dewey
Rowing began at Emma Willard in the mid-1980s. It didn’t take long before crew became a popular program.  Today, the Jesters are members of the nationally recognized and highly competitive New York State Section 2 Interscholastic Rowing Association, a junior rowing division. The fleet includes sweep and sculling boats and calls the boathouse on Green Island home. Close to one in ten students at Emma are on the crew team during the fall season, and in the spring the field narrows to a selective set of experienced rowers. The season runs right to the end of the academic year and most times the finals are wedged into the end-of-year celebrations. 

Jester crew teams have enjoyed considerable success over the years earning medals at  countless regattas including the New York State Championship. The novice crew program accepts students without any prior rowing experience and teaches them all aspects of rowing, to build them into the type of athletes that can later compete at the national level.  This past spring, the tradition of bold and fierce competitiveness continued. At the end of the season in late May, the Women’s Freshman Novice 4+ were coxed by Lucy B. 22’ and rowers Elizabeth S. 22’, Zara S. 22’, Juliette S. 21’, and Nicola B. 22’ secured the State Championship title and ended the season.  

It was not quite over for the Junior 4+ crew team of Gabby Z. ‘22, Olivia A. ‘21, Julia F. ‘20, Grace K. ‘20, and Magdalena M. ‘21 who earned second place at the State Championship, which qualified them for a slot in the National Championship. Armed with backpacks full of work, and masterfully juggling their end-of-year academic commitments, the athletes drove to Dillon Lake in Ohio for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America (SRAA) 2019 National Championship. The last time an Emma Willard crew team captured a National Championship was  in 2016, and the team regularly qualifies boats to compete there. The Jesters were ready to row in a field of talented competitors and eager to bring home another championship.

The girl’s first race was their opening heat held Friday morning against a very strong field of crews from across the country.  The Jesters knew they had to place in the top three crews to advance to Saturday’s semi-final so the pressure was on! Under perfect rowing conditions – warm weather, no wind, and flat water - the young crew rose to the challenge with a solid third place finish in their heat, thereby moving onto the semi-final round on Saturday morning.
Rower Gabby shared, “When we arrived at the racecourse, my nerves quickly dissipated due to the enthusiasm and positive energy of my teammates...The course was straightforward and not particularly challenging but the windy conditions prevented us from taking a practice row on Thursday, the day before our race. As a result, our first opportunity to be on the race course was during the Friday preliminary event. In that race, we were thrilled to advance to the semifinals on Saturday!”
Saturday’s “semi’s” were again rowed under ideal conditions.  With half the field of 24 crews eliminated in Friday’s heats, the Jesters were keenly aware they’d have to pull out all the stops to advance to the afternoon final against the “best of the best.” Rowing a spirited race, the girl’s rowed with determination and grit but the competition was too strong. The Emma girls crossed the line in fifth place missing a trip to the final.  Although disappointed, the girls knew they rowed their best and simply lost to stronger crews. Emma finished the regatta, and their stellar season, with a #11 national scholastic ranking!
“Throughout the whole process of preparing for nationals and then competing in May, I became extremely close with my teammates,” reflected Gabby; “which was the primary reason we rowed so well together. Being surrounded by top teams from around the country with so many dedicated athletes has inspired me to train harder in hopes to return again. I am so thankful for my coaches who inspired and challenged me throughout the season. Their guidance and thoughtful encouragement were so important to our development as a boat.”
Capturing the National Championship will be the work for another year, and yet the experience of the national event, the fun, the honor, and upholding Emma’s strong tradition of crew prowess are owned by Gabby, Olivia, Julia, Grace, and Magdalena!

Head Crew Coach Bob Tarrant also reflects on the overall season, "Early in the winter training season it was clear the five athletes that comprised the Junior 4 with coxswain would be a formidable group. Their dedication and enthusiasm throughout the long days of indoor training, both on the ergometer and in the weight room, transitioned seamlessly to the water in the spring.  As the season progressed, their technical prowess, skill levels, and cohesiveness reached their peak culminating in a silver medal at the State Championships and a semi-final finish at Nationals. Equally exciting is that all five women return to Emma Crew this fall to carry on their impressive careers."

Note: The Crew Coaching staff encourages Emma students to try crew and welcomes anyone to attend practices when school resumes in August, to see if the intense novice training program is a good fit for them.

    • Junior 4+ crew team at Nationals

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