Men’s Crew: Tufts opens 2017 fall season with impressive individual performances

4/16/16 – Medford, MA – The Tufts crew team rows against Middlebury College on Malden River on April 16, 2016. (Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily)

Competing in the very first race of its fall campaign, the Tufts men’s crew team traveled to Putney, Vt. for the Green Mountain Head Regatta, an elite sculling event. Facing off against mostly non-collegiate rowers in an unusual racing format where rowers each race in their own boat, the Jumbos focused primarily on improving their personal technique rather than coming home with a victory.

Going into the race, coach Noel Wanner chose the top 13 rowers on the team most confident in their sculling abilities, an event type the varsity team will not compete in once their season kicks into high gear this spring.

The regatta was unique in the Jumbos’ schedule for two reasons. First, most Tufts rowers are used to competing in boats with a total of eight rowers with one oar per person. At Green Mountain Head, 12 Jumbos raced in their own boats with two oars and one raced alongside an assistant coach in a double.

Even more unusual, the caliber of the competition at Green Mountain Head was higher than a normal regatta, with the majority of racers rowing above the collegiate level. As such, the team was mostly looking to improve in their results compared to last year and to gain technical experience, according to senior Ashton Knight.

“The idea is by taking us to these races, we will improve the team as more technical individual rowers,” he said. “It’s pretty low stakes for us, but with really talented competitors.”

Junior tri-captain Isaac Mudge echoed Knight’s sentiment.

“In some ways it’s a weird race because the competition is so high and the pressure isn’t necessarily on because we’re racing these elite level scullers,” he said. “It’s still tough to get beat by those guys by like a minute, so I never really leave this race feeling super pumped … but it’s a great race to come to.”

Despite the tough opposition, the Jumbos largely managed to hold their own against the older, more experienced scullers. Senior tri-captain Andrew MacMillen was the top finisher for Tufts in the 1x- 19-34 race, placing an impressive fifth with a time of 20:07.9.

“Our results are really indicative of the team becoming more talented and displaying more skill and confidence than we have in the past,” Knight said. “It’s not the kind of racing we’re going to be seeing in the spring, but it’s awesome that we have so many people that can hold their own against these guys.”

Including MacMillen, the Jumbos had five rowers place in the top 20 competitors, a clear improvement from last year’s results in the same regatta, when only three rowers placed as highly in the leaderboard. Knight finished in 15th place with a time of 21:04.1, junior Ryan Bell placed 17th in 21:21.2, senior Thomas Hendrickson raced a 21:24.5 and placed 18th and sophomore Paul Gelhaus rounded out the top 20 in 21:50.7.

While the team’s overall improvement in this regatta was certainly desired, the fall season itself is generally viewed as the perfect time for the crew team to improve on its technical skills and not worry as much about times or results.

“Basically the way it works in the fall is it’s more of a training season and our coach is a lot more focused on improving every rower… and the way he does that is by having a lot more time in single and quad boats,” junior coxswain James Grant said. “I feel like every day in practice for at least a little we do single [boats].”

The benefit of sculling is clear to the rowers.

“Being in an individual boat allows athletes to feel how they are powering the boat, teaches them how to balance their bodies and creates a more controlled rhythm to rowing,” Grant said.

Sophomore Sam Agnew agreed that the single boats pose a unique challenge.

“It’s a little more difficult to balance the singles, and it’s a very sturdy boat when you’re in the eight guy boat so you can’t really tell when you’re making mistakes,” he said. “Towards the end of the race, I started technically falling apart, and it’s good to learn that you need to work on certain technical things.”

Mudge, who finished in 23rd with a time of 21:58.3, sees sculling as the single most important training exercise the Jumbos can do at this point in their season.

“For me personally, technique is the limiting factor in my rowing ability so this is literally the most valuable thing we can be doing right now even if it’s also one of the more frustrating ways of going about it,” he said. “It’s a really worthwhile way to practice … and the most responsible way of teaching yourself how to row properly.”

That practice has already paid off for the Jumbos, who had three boats last season make it to the New England Rowing Championships and had all three final in their respective events.

The squad will compete in several more sculling events this fall, the most notable being the Head of the Charles Regatta on Oct. 22.