6 a.m. practice six days a week, calloused hands and the dubious waters of the Malden River do not faze the members of the men’s rowing team. Under the direction of recently appointed head coach Noel Wanner and associate coach Anna Lindgren-Streicher, the team, currently preparing for its fall racing season, has made significant changes to build and improve upon its rowing style, technical ability and efficiency.
One of the changes put into practice this season is the emphasis on proficiency in rowing a single scull. A single scull is a coxless rowing shell designed for one rower, with an oar flanking either side. This contrasts remarkably with the coxed four- or eight-man shells traditionally used by the team for both practice and competition.
“Rowing in a single scull is perhaps the best way of learning how to move a boat effectively,” Wanner said. “The single scull gives the rower immediate, clear feedback on how his or her movements are affecting the boat — if the boat is going well or poorly, it’s all because of [the sculler].”
The result of this adjustment to the team’s training regimen was put to the test Sept. 27 at the Green Mountain Head in Putney, Vt. The regatta features mostly single-oar sculling events and thus worked well with Wanner’s vision to develop more technically skilled rowers. Tufts sent a select group of seven experienced scullers to the Green Mountain Head to compete in the men’s single event for 19 to 34-year-olds. Among their competitors were current and former members of the U.S. national team as well as Olympic hopefuls.
The most successful of Tufts’ rowers was sophomore Andrew MacMillen, who finished 12th overall in the singles event and placed second among all collegiate scullers present at the regatta.
The team is also focused on its long-term prospects. Looking beyond the renowned Head of the Charles Regatta in which they will compete the weekend of Oct. 17, the team is making use of its time and is preparing primarily for the onset of its spring racing season.
“Our goal is to be on the medal dock this spring at [the New England Rowing Championships],” junior tri-captain Zach Merchant said. “If we boat four entries, we want to reach a point when we come home with four medals.”
An often less-publicized aspect of the Tufts crew program is its novice team. These athletes are walk-ons with no prior rowing experience who are interested in learning to row. Walk-ons, after their introductory year, can then be promoted to the varsity team.
New to the team’s coaching staff is coach George Munger, who began rowing at the age of 14 in his hometown of Rochester, Minn. and continued to row at the collegiate level at the University of Minnesota. He began coaching during his studies there and, most recently, was a coach for the Boston University men’s crew team. Munger said he was drawn to Tufts primarily by what he sees as the growth happening in the men’s rowing program, and comes to Tufts with a specific approach to educating the walk-ons.
“A lot of novice coaches shy away from doing difficult [things] early on to bolster numbers,” Munger said. “I went the total opposite [direction]. We had a wave of attrition where about 50 percent of the walk-ons decided [rowing] was not the thing for them. What I was left with was a small group of guys who are willing to focus and enjoy working hard on a day-to-day basis.”
According to team members, Munger’s style of coaching walk-ons helps bridge the gap in attitude between the varsity and novice squads.
“I think the general attitude during practice [now] is more serious,” sophomore and former walk-on Andrew Takasugi said. “At the end of the day, everyone knows that we need to make the most out of every minute we have when we’re out on the water.”
The men’s varsity and novice crews will be competing in their first regatta of the fall season Saturday, Oct. 10 at the Head of the Snake in Worcester, Mass.