St. Mary's Crew Team Begins Its Spring Season

For St. Mary’s Crew, just beginning its spring season with three competitions since February, there is much love and dedication to the team among novice, senior, and in-the-middle rowers.

“The team has definitely evolved since I was a first-year novice,” said senior and club president Andy VanDeusen. “We’ve been gaining boats, coaches, and many new members.  We have seen older classes graduate, leave, and come back as often as they can. We have seen people join the club, and then, sadly, quit. What has influenced my view of the change of the club more than how the club itself has changed, is how I have changed in relation to it. Being a novice is very different from being the club president. I remember having older rowers to look up to and aspire to, and it have take care of the club for me. Now, I have to be that older rower. I, and my fellow upper
classmen, are helping take the novices out on the water, coaching them, challenging them, and showing them what it means to be a rower for the SMCM Crew Club.”

Beginning spring meets in February with an Erg-Sprints competition at the College of William and Mary and continuing into March with a dual meet at Washington College, the crew team (including men’s and women’s novice and professional teams) has been active since last semester, preparing for intense meets later in the semester and after graduation on May 12.

“I rowed in the Wye Island regatta last semester, 12.5 miles around Wye Island on the eastern shore,” said junior and president-elect Hannah Coe. “It stands out as one of the best rowing memories I have so far.”

While a club team, St. Mary’s Crew is notorious for its work commitment, beginning practices at 5 a.m. during the competitive season under the guidance of several coaches and senior club members. Though they endure intense workouts and large amounts of blisters, club members seem to always show an unfailing dedication to their fellow teammates.

“We are competitive, spirited, and committed. The people we attract to crew are still outgoing, exciting, and fun,” said senior Raza Ahmad. “The team never loses the positive aspects of the team sport…and even though the coaches have successfully changed us into better, more competitive rowers, there is still a lot that is unchanged.”

The team is designed with a novice component, where beginning rowers (while usually not needing to wake up as early) can learn the ropes under the leadership of more experienced team members. The hope is that after taking an interest in the sport, these team members will progress to the early-rising competitive men’s and women’s teams.

“Prior to coming to St. Mary’s I had never been on a crew team, or even seen a crew boat,” said first-year and secretary-elect Teresa Padgett. “But in the past few months that I’ve been a part of the novice team I have fallen in love with this sport.”

While many of the team members are seniors, love for the sport seems to have disseminated to younger athletes, and all team members strongly encourage newcomers to come out to a practice to see what being on the team is like.

“Weaknesses [for the team] are those who don’t row,” said VanDeusen.

“The crew team [are] not just my teammates,” said Coe, “they are my at-school family, people who are worth getting up at 5 a.m. for!”

Beginning its spring semester season on the right paddle, St. Mary’s Crew will be competing during and after the rest of the semester, preparing in the waters, on the Ergs, and well into the early morning hours.

“I am planning on attending the American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships in Georgia after graduation, and I am sure that this massive regatta will be a very significant memory for me.”

Club Spotlight: The Crew Team

Hello St. Mary’s! For those of you that haven’t heard about it yet, there is an awesome group of people on campus known as the Crew team. I know that we may look just like you, save for a few classy pieces of clothing with our crossed oar logo, but you may be interested to know that we are in fact all superhumans.  If you need convincing on this point, consider this: on a given weekday, you can find the majority of us waking up at 5 to go physically exhaust ourselves for the next 2 hours before our 8-a.m.’s. Of course, we aren’t so cruel as to force our new recruits to wake up that early. Novices on the team can be found out and rowing on the water at the much more hospitable time of 4:30 in the afternoon. For those of you looking to enjoy our lovely river, get in shape, or just eager to meet new people, Crew is for you.

Is it tough? Yes. But is it worth it? Also yes. We only had our first general meeting on Wednesday, and so I can’t say I know the new people that showed up very well yet, but the 40 or so people I know who are currently on the team are some of the most awesome, hardworking, and generally decent people on campus.  And beyond the social aspect of the team, our hard work has paid off.  In recent years, St. Mary’s Crew boats have (at least) placed and won (more common) just about every regatta that we’ve shown up to.  We’ve raised funds that have enabled us to buy a very nice new boat, and are trying to raise the money to get another one this year.

I’m a senior now and have been on the team since I was but a wee Freshman (back when we were still called that) and I’ve enjoyed it every year. The waking up early was a bit tricky to get used to, but I managed it, and I’ve seen some of the most beautiful sunrises I may ever see because of it. I’ve made some good friends through this team and it has given me plenty of great stories.  In fact, one of the most amazing parts of being a part of this group can really be summed up in that one word: team. It is said that adversity brings people together and let me tell you, there is nothing most college kids are more adverse to than waking up at 5.  I’m not the sort to say for certain how things are going to turn out over this coming year, my last on the team, but I will make a few predictions. One: we’ll kick ass.  Two: we’ll drink a lot of coffee. And Three: we’ll walk away from that last boat maintenance with smiles on our faces and good times behind us.

“Seahawk Sprint” Regatta Tests Crew’s Endurance

On Saturday, April 9, the St. Mary’s crew team held its “Seahawk Sprint” down at the waterfront on a cloudy and chilly afternoon.

The Seahawk Sprint is the second regatta the team participated in this spring semester and the seventh regatta the team has participated in during the 2010-2011 school year.

St. Mary’s captured three first place races during the Seahawk Sprint which included the Novice Men’s 4, the Varsity Men’s 4, and the Varsity Women’s 8 races.

Crew is a sport of rowing whereby either four- or eight-rower boats are directed by the coxswain and race over a certain distance in hopes of completing that distance with the shortest time.

Describing her role as a rower, senior Melina Vamvas said she “sits 8 seat, which is the stroke [seat]” and “is only affecting the boat in a positive way.”

Junior Molly Dougherty, a coxswain, said “as a coxswain you’re a motivator…no issues are left off the water.”

Dougherty added that she makes sure everything is taken care of, addresses problems, and makes people comfortable.

However, she said she must “draw the line” between the role of conciliator versus motivator.

This past school year, the St. Mary’s crew team obtained many accolades during their regattas.

At the Wye Island Regatta, the Women’s and Men’s Mixed 8 and Mixed Double teams claimed first place in their four respective races.

At the Occoquan Challenge, the Varsity Women’s 8 team finished second.

Crew Coach Kristin Conlin said she gets her players to succeed through “repetition and focus” and that crew is “not about brute force but pursuing the sport intelligently.”

Conlin added she feels rewarded “when I know the workouts or technical drills positively affect the rowers.”

But the crew team has not always been the perennial contender it is today. Its status as a club sport means it lacks the funding and administrative support varsity sports are given.

Until 2007, the crew team had no paid coach. Conlin started part-time coaching in 2007, saying she “wanted to give back to the team” and the team would “die” without a permanent member, i.e. a coach.

Vamvas said before a coach was present the team was more of a casual group of rowers with much less determination and dedication.

“Coaches made it a team and not just a group of people” said Vamvas.

While club status offers the crew team fewer restrictions and more leeway, it also denies it school funding, out-of-school practices, and official recruiting.

Dougherty said “we work really hard and there is a lot of dedication and talent on this team… [but] it’s not recognized by the school.”

Conlin echoed Dougherty’s sentiment, and said “what the team needs is not just support from the College in words, they need some type of standing influence to make sure we’re able to progress.”

Although the crew team has faced some obstacles over the years, progress is still being made.

“Ten years ago the team could not have imagined [this] caliber of athletes and coxswains,” Conlin said.

Vamvas commented that “[the crew team] turned into a varsity team without being a varsity team.”

With only one race left for the year, Vamvas provided some reflective thoughts on her experiences on crew.

“I’ll miss having 60 best friends every year,” Vamvas said, and advised for rising and future teammates to “have fun” and “have a good row and a good time.”

Vamvas is one of three seniors currently on the team, and one of two seniors who has been on the team for four years.

Dougherty also discussed the socializing aspects of being part of the crew team.

She talked of eating meals together as team, living together with teammates, and generally having primary friends from the crew team.

“It’s a bunch of friends with a bunch of interests of a wide variety” Dougherty said. “We are a boat.”

Said Conlin, “crew has become more of an institution rather a small facet to their larger self.”


Club Reflections: St. Mary’s Crew

I was an innocent First-year, awkwardly exercising on an indoor rower at the gym when a huddle of sleep-deprived zombies posted a hastily-scrawled sign on the wall in front of me: “Hey you! Yeah…you! In the…shirt. Yeah. Come to our first meeting tonight in Schaefer!” (For some reason, I never forgot that sign.)

But I knew better. There was no way I would crawl out of bed at five in the morning to walk all the way down to the waterfront in the dark just to cover my hands in blisters, freeze my butt off with a coxswain wailing at me before the crack of dawn, be associated with that obnoxiously large group banging down the doors of the Great Room for breakfast, then hop back under the covers for a quick nap—all before the rest of the campus stirred awake for their 8 AM classes. It just didn’t make any sense. What was the point?

Even now, after a whirlwind year with the crew team, I still don’t quite understand it. I shuffle into the boathouse every morning at 5:30 to hear horror stories of my teammates working on papers until 4 a.m., managing a quick nap before practice, then heading off to their 8 a.m. classes or their jobs to start their day.

We boast RAs (how do you guys do it?), pre-meds (P.O.B. + crew?!), and future teachers (no time to shower before placements!). We tear our muscles in two (or three or four or millions), until the lactic acid will surely burn through our flesh, and all the while a tiny, unreasonable person is screaming at us to row faster.

We pack up a trailer full of 65-foot boats and seats and oars and tools to travel for hours just to try to win a little piece of metal with a ribbon to adorn our sweaty necks. We fundraise nonstop to pay for pieces of equipment I don’t understand, can’t carry, or can’t pronounce.

Maybe seniors Carla Bacon and Melina Vamvas (our President and First Lady, respectively), who have stuck it out all four years, understand it? Does any of it make any sense to anyone?

I don’t know, but I think it’s the people. I can’t let these people down. I can’t put myself in a situation that will compromise my condition, because my boat needs me. If I have to set five alarms for the morning, I’ll do it, because my boat needs me.

I’ll pull a little harder on the erg when it rains and we have gym practice because it’ll make me stronger, since my boat needs me. And when I cross the finish line at the race with that boat, whether we’re in first or last, I just shared something special with eight other people that nobody else can understand.

I have made fifty fast friends this year—fifty of the most hard-working, strongest, most inspiring people. Fifty of the funniest people. Fifty of the best hug-givers. Fifty of the most insane people…

I can’t imagine sharing a St. Mary’s River sunrise or a shooting star with anybody but them.

The Rare Crewbie may resemble a zombie by dinner time, but that’s because they’ve been working so hard this semester. Before the season started, two of our boats placed first in their categories at the Wye Island regatta, a half-marathon row.

We’ve traveled to races in D.C., Philly, and Virginia over the semester, and our varsity women medaled at the Occoquan Challenge last month. We’ve been actively fundraising toward the purchase of a new boat for our novices (thanks for everyone’s support at RiverFest and Bruster’s!).

And next month, junior Holly Fabbri and myself will be rowing a full marathon (42,195 meters) on the indoor rower, just because we want to (Please visit us/suggest good movies to pass the time?).

What’s next for the team? You can cheer for us at our home regatta, the Seahawk Sprint, coming next semester. You can buy cRaZy spandex from us to help support our growing team as we try to purchase a new boat. You can hug us when you see us gulping coffee to stay awake in class (we like hugs).

Or better yet: you can join the team when we recruit during Club Fair in the spring and become part of a unique group in a unique sport. You don’t need any prior knowledge of rowing or coxing, just a willingness to learn and willpower to be great.

Why would you join? Why put yourself through all of that…weirdness…I just described? I don’t know. You’re going to have to figure that out for yourself. But crew is like crack…and I promise that, somehow, strangely, you’ll become addicted and love it, too.