This weekend, the Tufts women’s crew team sent two boats to the esteemed Head of the Charles regatta. Competing in the women’s collegiate eights race, the team stunned the competition with its first varsity boat finishing in sixth place and its second varsity boat finishing in 17th place.
Thousands upon thousands of people traveled across state lines and across oceans and gathered along the banks of Cambridge and Boston to witness the 55th annual Head of the Charles, which is widely considered the most prestigious and competitive regatta in the world.
The event, which is divided into a series of 71 different races over the third weekend of October, attracts members from across the rowing world. From Olympians to high schoolers, teams from across the country have the chance to show their skills to the world in the 4,800-meter course.
And at the center of it all? The Tufts women’s crew team, who automatically qualified two women’s varsity eight boats for this year’s regatta with seventh and 14th place finishes in last year’s race. According to sophomore Alicia Heia, a Seattle, Wash., native who also raced the Charles as a high schooler, this year’s Charles was dignified by a level of competition she hadn’t seen before.
“This weekend was my fourth Head of the Charles, and it was by far the most intense,” Heia said.
Indeed, this Charles was marked by stark competition throughout the race, which traverses under a series of six bridges. Due to the intense nature and sharp turns contained in the race, oftentimes coxswains — who are in charge of steering the boat and coordinating the direction of rowers — are forced to navigate for space in the crowded lanes of the regatta.
Heia, who raced in the five-seat of the sixth-place finishing first varsity boat, explained how this task was made all the more difficult for 1V boat coxswain and sophomore Gabby Borenstein by increasing pressure during the course from one of Tufts’ fiercest NESCAC rivals — Wesleyan.
“We walked up on Wesleyan’s 1V in the first thousand meters, and then we almost had them at the first bridge, but then the Wesleyan’s coxswain wouldn’t give us the inside line and kept us outside for all of the turns,” Heia said. “The Wesleyan coxswain refused to yield and yelled at our coxswain, [sophomore] Gabby Borenstein, who was trying to get through. And so the whole race, we were going essentially our stroke rate for a 2k race, for the entire Head [of the Charles] race.”
Heia further detailed the difficulty the 1V boat faced against Wesleyan, explaining how the pressure from the Cardinals may have influenced the race.
“[Wesleyan] definitely made us row some extra meters. I definitely can’t speak to the place that we would have gotten, just because we didn’t get it, but I do think that the result of the race was definitely greatly impacted by Wesleyan,” Heia said. “Especially with my boat — we actually had some contact with them. Their oars and ours clashed, and they almost steered us into the Eliot bridge, the last bridge of the race.”
Despite the stubbornness of the Wesleyan coxswain, the Jumbos managed to push past their opponent after traversing the Eliot bridge.
“It was a pretty loud race, we were next to the Wesleyan boat the whole time after the initial lockout,” Heia said. “Once we got into that sprint section — the section past the Eliot bridge at the end of the course — we really stepped it up and walked through them then.”
In the end, the Cardinals’ efforts to lockout the Tufts 1V boat were fruitless. While the Jumbos sprinted ahead to finish sixth, the Cardinals fell behind, finishing the race in 13th place.
In the second varsity boat berth, senior co-captain Grace Fabrycky led from the seven-seat in her boat. The 2V boat, steered by first-year coxswain Riley Bray, led a smooth race around the notoriously difficult turns of the Charles, finishing in 17th place.
Fabrycky spoke about the race, praising Bray’s performance in navigating the eight-seated boat.
“We were behind Hamilton and in front of Wellesley, and we honestly had no contact the whole time. We pretty steadily pushed away from the Wellesley 2V,” Fabrycky said. “Our coxswain, Riley, who is a [first-year], she steered an amazing course. [She] did a really, really, really good job.”
Fabrycky praised the achievement of her boat, indicating that a strong sense of focus led the Jumbos to their strong 2V finish.
“The Charles is one of the most exciting races we do because there are so many boats and so many spectators, which makes it really fun, but also kind of really easy to be distracted and jittery,” Fabrycky said. “I thought when we got up to the start, we did a really good job of just focusing in and taking that energy and zoning in.”
Fabrycky continued, emphasizing how the Jumbos kept that same energy throughout the entirety of the race.
“The whole race, even through all the bridges — there are a ton of bridges and some really tricky turns in the race — we kept the same splits, we didn’t let the power up, and we were just really applying pressure together,” Fabrycky said. “So it was a good race for my boat.”
Coming out of the weekend, the Jumbos are excited about their prospects heading into the long winter season. For the next three months, the women’s crew team will focus on conditioning and continued strength training as they prepare for their ultimate goal of succeeding in the spring regattas.
“The thing that we proved in the two boats we raced this weekend is that all of the women on the team have put in a lot of work, and it’s paying off,” Fabrycky said. “If we’re seeing it not just from those two boats that got to race this weekend, but from everyone on the team, it’s going to pay off this spring.”
In addition, Tufts’ stroke has been quite literally revitalized by new additions to the coaching staff. Although former women’s coach Brian Dawe has stayed on the team to coach the walk-ons, the team is now led by former men’s coach Noel Wanner.
“Our new head coach actually has a different stroke than our past head coach does, so we’ve all been adapting throughout the whole season,” Heia said. “Noel Wanner has been a great asset to the team, and he’s really shaken up the girls. A lot of the seniors have really come back at it, and come back stronger than they ever have because they feel like this season is the season.”
Finally, Heia concluded by thanking the support the entire team received throughout the most prestigious race in the world.
“We had a lot of support from people from Tufts. All throughout the river and throughout the course, people were yelling from every bridge, and it was really awesome to have the support,” Heia said. “We saw some Tufts alumni, as well as the men’s head coach, who raced his single in the club single.”
The women’s crew will attend the Head of the Fish Regatta in Saratoga, N.Y., on Saturday to conclude its fall regular competitive season.