UNH rowers maintain winning legacy
Men's Varsity 4: Joseph Stevens, Patrick McNulty, Emmaline Willis, Spencer Rees, Brendan Courtney (Bronze Medal, 2019 Lake Quinsigamond Snake Regatta)
Returning to college as a veteran and nontraditional student in 2009, I have been very fortunate to meet many positive and ambitious students and student athletes at UNH Durham. My interest was peaked by conversations with classmates who were rowers, in 2011. Since then I have stayed in touch with the team, and have been fascinated with how a winning legacy has been built-and sustained-by a club team competing against Division 1 schools on a regular basis.
I remember being at Fort Devens, MA for my Army reserve weekend in October 2015, when I was notified by one of the UNH Crew coaches that the women rowers won the gold medal at the Head of the Charles Regatta. I couldn’t wait to get back to campus to compose the article for The New Hampshire.
The UNH Women’s crew team won the 2015 gold medal (Women’s Collegiate Fours) with a very special boat. The Vespoli 4+ model was dedicated before the race to Susan L. Harning, the mother of 2015 alumni and coxswain Lisa Harning. Susan passed away in 2014, after a courageous battle with lung cancer. The wining crew included Emily Lane, Alison Smith, Sydney Michalak, Megan Mottola, and David Desaulniers (of the men’s team).
On October 22, 2017, two years after the winning the gold medal at the Head of the Charles Regatta, the UNH women’s crew team repeated the feat. Emily Lane was again on the winning boat, along with Sydney Michalak, Brianne Doherty, Melissa Clivio-Wentrup, and Emily Villeneuve.
I can still recall the excitement in the voices of these student athletes, when I had the chance to interview them. My impression was that this was a landmark event in their lives.
I always root for the underdog in sports, and in life. David versus Goliath stories can be very inspirational. Here I was seeing a club team defeating larger Division 1 schools in major regattas, while facing budget challenges and shared training facilities.
I often see the rowers come in for team breakfast at Holloway Commons, after already having been out on the water at the crack of dawn. I recall observing a March practice in the estuary in Durham, two years ago. The coaches provided me with cold weather coveralls to observe, however the team was out on the water-where the air temperature was around 23 degrees Fahrenheit-in just their workout clothes.
Now, as a graduate student here in Durham in 2019, I am reconnecting with the rowers, with the intent of seeing how the upperclassmen are continuing the tradition. On Wednesday, September 25th, I observed the UNH rowers’ practice in Dover, NH. This was preparatory to the Lake Quinsigamond Snake Regatta on October 12th, and the upcoming Head of the Charles River Regatta on October 19th and 20th.
It was a picture-perfect early autumn day. The team uses a shared boat house on the Cocheco River. I joined coached Jason Reuter and Ben Wymer in one of the coaches launches.
Reuter and Wymer had two 4-person boats race, then switched different positions as they were looking for the best combinations.
“Team arrangements are a mixed,” said Reuter. “The races you saw [ today at practice] were used as a factor in our boat selection process for the Head of the Charles. Our women's boat is all seniors this year, but the men's boats are mixed with rowers of all classes.”
“Boat placement is determined using various different tools,” Reuter said. “The ergo-meter measures the athlete's raw power, typically this is read in splits or watts.”
“Splits are the most common, and measure the time it would take to row 500m at that given power output. Once we have some raw data we then put the rowers in a boat and gage their technique. This ensures that their power on the erg effectively translates to the oar and moves the boat. Finally, all the rowers must mesh well with one another and stay in time.”
“We have been continuing to prepare for our fall races working to find efficiency in the stroke,” Reuter said. “Rowing is a sport of habits, similar to golf, the only way to improve your stroke is to practice. A lot.”
Coaches are cognizant of stroke rate during these early morning practices.
“[ During practice] We set a fixed stroke rating between two boats to ensure neither had the advantage of taking more strokes during the race,” said Reuter. “We control the rating a lot in our practices. Lower ratings are physically easier, and force the rowers to have more body control and be more fluid in their movements. For racing it is a clear advantage to row at a higher rating, but much more physically taxing.”
The dynamic of rowing is fascinating to watch, and can be broken down as follows:
The blade enters the water/ The legs apply force and accelerate the boat/The upper body finishes the drive/The blade leaves the water/Hands and upper body begin to move forward/The whole body moves down the slide/The rower reaches front stops and the catch.
“A lot of people assume that rowers have a ton of upper body strength because the often relate rowing to a more tradition row boat when the rower sits on a fixed bench and uses their arms to row,” Reuter said. “In our racing boats, the seat is on a side. This allows the rowers to use the much stronger muscles in their legs and back to apply force and accelerate the boat.”
Women's Varsity 4: Summer Johnson, Jennifer Howes, Kaela Healy, Johanna, Pastoriza, Adrienne Quinn (Gold Medal)
Senior Spencer Rees has the perspective of multiple years with the program.
“I was with the team when the women's four won gold in 2017 at the HOCR, that was my sophomore fall, ” Rees said.
“My favorite experience with the team would have to be our annual spring break trip down to Lake Lanier in Gainesville, GA. It's pretty much 10 days of eating, sleeping and rowing. Having the team in one spot and focused solely on rowing produces massive technical improvements on the water and gets us ready for a competitive spring season. I also enjoy the smaller things scattered throughout the year including hikes, community services and fundraising. ”
Many of the rowers have expressed to me an interest in rowing or coaching beyond college.
“I do have plans to continue supporting and interacting with UNH Rowing after I graduate,” said Rees. “Coaching is the most probable path forward at this moment, and I'm looking forward to the chance to give back to a program that has instilled fundamental skills and values in me that will allow me to succeed after I graduate."
Senior Rachel Foote is co-captain of the women’s team, and along with Rees is on the Executive Board for UNH Rowing. As a club team, Executive Board members assist the coaching staff, and handle other logistical tasks and challenges as well. (For instance, Meghan Gamache acts as
VP of Travel Logistics).
“I have been on this team for 4 years now, so when the women won Head of the Charles, I was a sophomore on the team!” said Foote. “Four of the women in the boat were seniors and one was a sophomore. We all waited around the boat after the race because they were waiting for the final results. When it was announced that they came in first, everyone was so happy. That was the year our coach situation started to change and it was amazing to see what we could accomplish even when the team was going through a rough patch.”
“My favorite moment on the team was when the Women's Varsity 8 came in 2nd in ACRA's (National championship competitions) my freshmen year,” Foote said. “Being a freshman, it was very scary to be in that boat. Most of the women in the boat were seniors or juniors and it was their last chance to get a medal at nationals. The team at that point got 4th place for the last couple years and I knew how much they wanted this medal. I remember crossing the finish line like it was yesterday. We thought we got third place at the time, but we had no idea because of how close the other boat was. We just waited for them to call us up to the winner’s dock. They called us 2nd which meant second place. It was in that moment where I knew all of the pressure and pain from that year was worth it and I have never felt more pure happiness than on this day.”
Foote spoke about the challenges and rewards facing the upperclassmen and all of the rowers.
“As a senior on the team, it's been a rollercoaster,” she said. “Every year the coaching staff has completely switched due to the cuts the university made to our head coach position. At the end of my sophomore year, I was elected to be women's team captain and then was reelected this year. Being a leader on the team for two consecutive years has been hard, but very worth it. The executive board has taken on a lot of responsibility that a head coach would usually take responsibility for. I think these past 4 years have really opened my mind on the importance of good leadership and good communication. Without these two things, our team would have disappeared by now. I am excited to see what UNH Rowing becomes in the future. After graduation, I am hoping to move to Boston after I graduate and potentially row occasionally at a club. I would definitely consider coaching if the opportunity comes up later on and someone wants me to coach. This sport has taught me the biggest life lessons. Rowing is a sport of passion, drive, integrity, and accountability. It is an individual sport, but also the biggest team sport out there. I want to pass down all of the life lessons I learned from this sport to new rowers in the future.”
Men's Novice 4: Sam Reitshamer, Justin Hunt, Melissa Duggan, Silas Johnson, Andrew Miller
First-year rower Hadleigh Webber spoke about her experience at the October 12th, 2019 Lake Quinsigamond Snake Regatta. (in Shrewsbury, MA).
“This weekend, the weather was low to mid 50's, mostly cloudy with a slight drizzle. It began to rain harder during some of the races. The water was slightly choppy and there was a very strong headwind which made it difficult to row.”
“I was in the Novice Women's 4, rowing stroke (4) seat, and we finished 5th,” Webber said. “The race felt really great, all four women in the boat have never rowed before a few weeks ago when the season started, and we had a great first race. The second half of our race was significantly better, and faster than our first half. My boat got to practice together or two days leading up to the race which was incredibly helpful. As a team, we also work extensively on improving our overall fitness which was incredibly valuable during the race.”
Webber is a History major, with a dual minor in Political Science and Economics.
"After UNH, I would love to stay involved in the rowing community in some way. I was a swimmer for many years and I am now a swim coach for the Portsmouth Swim Team. I love coaching, so if an opportunity arose where I could be a rowing coach I would love to pursue that. I did not row in high school, I was a walk-on here t UNH, but the wonderful thing about UNH is the ability to walk on.”
“Our team is mostly members who never rowed in high school and I believe that that makes us stronger,” Webber said.
“Saturday’s (October 12th Snake Regatta) went really well,” said Coach Jackie Todd. Todd rowed at UNH from Fall 2010 to Spring 2014, and started coaching here in January of 2018.
“Overall we had a strong showing; we had 3 boats that won medals,” Todd said. “Two came in first and the other in 3rd.”
The Men’s Varsity Four won the bronze medal with a time of 16:44.9. The Women’s varsity Four claimed the gold with a winning time of 18:22.7. And the Men’s Novice Four also took the gold with a time of 18:25.9.
Twins Silas and Summer Johnson occupied the stroke seats of their respective gold medal boats!
(Full results can be found here).
Next up for the Wildcat Rowers is the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta, Oct. 19-20.
I am truly moved by the dedication and positive attitude of these student athletes. I recall a quote by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”