Women’s crew closes season among best teams in Div. III

The Tufts women's crew team rows against Middlebury College on Malden River on April 16, 2016. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

The women’s crew team wrapped up a long and impressive season earlier this month, driven by steady improvement from a young lineup. The main focus of the fall portion of the season was bringing the team together and finding a lineup that meshed the experienced rowers with the talented younger core.

“We worked to integrate all rowers onto the varsity squad and continually raise the standards we set for ourselves,” graduating senior tri-captain and coxswain of the first varisty eight Kellie King said.

The first big regatta of the fall was October’s Head of the Charles — the famous nationwide race featuring all college divisions and overseas clubs. Of the 22 Div. III boats competing, the Jumbos finished eighth with a time of 18:11.05. Tufts was only 46 seconds off the pace of the winner, Williams.

As a testament to the team’s ability to bring together young talent with senior leadership, the crew included five graduating seniors — Kate Ainsworth, Claire Sleigh, Emma Wells, Rachel Siegler and Leah Forston — two rookies and now rising sophomores — Maddie Orzeske and Libby Lichter — and sophomore and now rising junior Emma Conroy.

The crew began the three mile race in 24th place, but King guided the boat efficiently through the course to their eventual eighth-place finish, Tufts’ best in its 12 years of competing in the Head of the Charles. Most importantly, the finish guaranteed Tufts a place in next year’s regatta.

“They are learning to work well with their efficiency, and visually it looks like the boat is moving on top instead of plowing through the water,” coach Brian Dawe said.

Having picked up momentum going into the second big regatta of the fall season, the Head of the Fish, Tufts again turned in its best finish in the history of the event, racking up seven of the possible 12 medals. After earning just two medals last year, the improvement and emergence of the younger rowers was apparent during the October weekend.

At the end of the fall season, the Jumbos shifted their focus to offseason training and erg work for an eventful spring.

The spring season opened on April 2 with a series of one-on-one regattas for Tufts, with races against Trinity, Hamilton and Mount Holyoke College on the team’s home waters, the Malden River.

Tufts battled hard against a solid Trinity boat, falling short by just 3.8 seconds. It was a tightly contested race until the very end and a strong showing for the Jumbos in the first race of the spring. Joining the varsity eight this spring were coxswain King, Lichter, rising sophomore Dana Books, as well as rising juniors Arielle Mann and Serra Busse.

Hamilton edged Tufts out for fifth place in the NCAA tournament last spring, and Tufts was able to exact a measure of revenge by besting them in a tight race by 4.1 seconds or almost a full length right after the Trinity race.

The second varsity eight turned in a dominant performance, racing to an 18.4 second victory over Mount Holyoke. It was the ideal start for the Jumbos, brushing off the offseason rust and allowing younger rowers to demonstrate their abilities as the season’s most critical period got underway.

“It was important for us to get the confidence for the rest of the season and really showed our improvement and hard work in the offseason,” rising sophomore Natalie Lowenstein said.

In the following two weeks, Tufts raced against stiff competition at home, facing NESCAC teams like defending national champion Bates. These races provided the team with great preparation for the New England Championships, which came in the final weekend of April.

“We continued to challenge ourselves to develop deeper as athletes and individuals throughout the spring,” King said.

Tufts raced with eight of the top 10 teams in the nation at the New England Championships, earning a strong seventh place finish. The Jumbos’ first and third varsity boats were able to place into the grand final and both boats finished in sixth. The second varsity boat finished third in the petite final. Combined, Tufts finished seventh of 29 with a 47.12 score.

In the team’s final race of the season, the Jumbos placed eighth out 21 in the National Invitational Rowing Championships. Tufts’ score was also good enough for fifth in the NESCAC, in a fiercely competitive conference where NESCAC teams claimed the top four spots in the nation, led by first place Williams. The Jumbos’ first varsity boat fell just .462 seconds shy of a spot in the grand final, but went on to win the petite final, granting them a seventh place finish in the first varsity eight category. The second and third varsity boats finished in ninth and seventh respectively, earning the Jumbos eighth place overall in the team point standings.

Though the team did not earn a spot in the NCAA championships, Tufts consistently showed why it is one of the top 10 teams in the nation throughout the year, earning strong finishes in the season’s biggest races. The team is still quite young, with a strong core of first and second years that the Jumbos look to build off of next season.