BC Club Men’s Crew Proves Labels Don’t Matter on the Water

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April 2, 2013 by conteconfidential

The Boston College club men’s rowing team has been keeping up with, and beating, varsity programs all season long.

Two weeks into the spring season, the Eagles already finds themselves in the middle of one of the most successful years in the history of their program.

After a strong fall season, they worked hard throughout the winter to stay in shape and prepare for their spring races. And everything they did is paying off so far.

On March 16, they finished in first place overall at the Jesuit Invitational, winning the Cannonball Trophy. All of the boats had impressive performances, including second-place finishes by the second varsity and novice eights and a third-place finish by the varsity eight.

The following weekend, the varsity eight and the second varsity eight placed third and second respectively in their races against Bates and MIT.

The Eagles will face Rhode Island and New Hampshire this upcoming weekend, building toward the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) and American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) championships in May.

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The varsity eight of Ryan Jong, Sean Fanning, John Corbett, Thomas Fee, Keane Johnson, Kevin Bielawski, James Harvey, Chris Samul, Chris Senft going to the starting line of the Head of the Charles Regatta (photo credit: Michael Fee)

The highlight of the fall season was the varsity eight’s 10th place finish at the historic Head of the Charles Regatta, the best performance at this event in the club’s history.

The top-ten finish was made even sweeter because BC edged out its rival, Trinity College, by less than half a second.

The rivalry with Trinity started around four years ago when Geordie Coffin, who rowed at Trinity from 2004-08, was named BC’s head coach.

Trinity was a powerhouse during Coffin’s years, and BC co-captain Tom Fee said that Coffin’s experience at Trinity has driven the BC crew to their present-day success.

“I don’t think [Geordie] showed up and said ‘We’re going to run this boat club like Trinity,’ but he showed up and said ‘We’re going to run this boat club like a winning boat club,’” Fee said.

Fee noted the importance of having a New England rivalry to motivate the team, and even compared the matchup to BC vs. Notre Dame. And senior Keith Brown said that BC’s defeat of Trinity at the Head of the Charles is proof of how much the team has improved since his freshman year.

“Four years ago we weren’t even competitive with [Trinity], so putting a target on their back gave us something to aim for,” Brown said.

Unlike many other club sports, the rowing team competes against varsity programs from all over the country.  Trinity, for example, is just one of many crews that BC rows against that has varsity status at its school.

So the members of the team don’t think of themselves as competing for a “club” team. After all, when they go into a race, they are competing against a mix of club and varsity teams, and their labels don’t matter once they are in the water.

“Rowing is the kind of sport where it is really anybody’s game,” said Fee.  “If you’re a good, competitive school, you can compete with anybody.”

Added co-captain and team president Keane Johnson: “I love being a club sport at races because you can look over at other teams and think, ‘Wow, you guys have been racing since you were eight years old, and we have only been rowing for three years, and we’re going to go down to the wire.’ I think that’s pretty cool.”

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The varsity eight goes through the Elliot Bridge at the Head of the Charles Regatta (photo credit: Thomas McShane)

To beat teams that have more experience, the Eagles have to outwork them. And they do just that in the winter.

Even though it is technically the off season, they still wake up for weekly 5:30 a.m. workouts and hit the ergs on a daily basis.

This continues until they are able to hit the water again for rowing practice. This year, the harsh winter prevented the team from getting on the water until just a few days before spring break, making the sessions on the ergs all the more important.

“Later in the spring we compete against schools like Virginia, who are more south of us, so they get on the water earlier than us,” said Ryan Jong, the senior coxswain for the varsity eight.  “That is why having the winter training is so crucial to our success in the spring.”

How do the Eagles find the motivation to wake up for 5:30 a.m. practices six days a week? They agree that knowing the other guys on the crew are getting up just as early is a huge factor.

“It’s a lot easier to get up in the morning knowing that seven other guys rely on you,” Johnson said.  “If one guy doesn’t show up, you’re all on land.”

The practice schedule is definitely demanding for the rowers, and many freshmen who join the team without any previous experience struggle to keep up.  But those who stick with the sport find that the time and effort pays off.

For senior Tim Coogan, balancing rowing, academics and membership in the Club Sports Council has improved his experience at BC.

“Waking up every morning to get to practice at 5:30 or 6 over my four years at BC has really helped to shape my character and provide me with a lot of focus,” Coogan said. “It has helped to structure my days and keep me on track academically, socially and athletically.”

Senior members of the team also pointed out that the closeness of their grade has made the entire experience worthwhile. In the four years since they were freshmen, the team has grown into a competitive, top-notch crew that can keep up with the best of the best.

Fee said that he receives about three emails a day from prospective rowers looking to join the crew.  He explained that young athletes now think of BC as a competitive school to row at, which was hardly the case four years ago.

Looking ahead, Brown hopes that this year’s senior class will be remembered for how much the program has grown during their time at BC.

“We want our legacy to be that we basically put Boston College rowing back on the map, and we’re only going to keep going up from here,” he said.

As for the rest of this season, the team is ready to go up against some of the top teams in the country, both varsity and club.

“We’re ‘men’s rowing.’  There’s no such thing as ‘club rowing,’” Fee said.  “As long as we have a boat, some oars and a coxswain, we’ll race anybody.”

By Julia Burkett

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