Each year the women’s crew team has one goal in mind: “To go as fast as we can,” as head coach Melanie Onufrieff honestly put it.
Regardless of the finish, if the Red pulls as hard as it can, Onufrieff cannot find fault. Unlike past years, though, if the boats work to their potential they have a shot of reaching and medalling at national championships.
“Every year since I’ve been here, we see less of a difference between the crews on the medal stands and our own boats,” Onufrieff observed.
These are high expectations, especially after a year during which Cornell’s first varsity boat did not place first in any of its regattas.
There are no guarantees from last year. Having graduated 11 seniors, the team should see a fight for spots in the boats so no roster is set in stone. Even once the crew gets on the water, Onufrieff has no qualms about tinkering with line-ups, as she did well into the 2000 spring campaign.
“I expect that [the first varsity] boat will have a completely different complexion. The whole team has stepped up. The sophomores were a catalyst, but they made everyone better.”
Onufrieff just knows that the current team has more depth than a team that considered breadth of talent its forte.
Last year, she saw the heavily stacked novice teams and awaited their arrival on the varsity squad. The sophomores, while coming back to East Hill in poor shape, have been training hard since then.
“They are pretty good,” Onufrieff announced. “They combine a high intensity level and fiery racing ability.”
Much of the improvement in the entire team can be attributed to the senior class, which — as a whole — has increased intrasquad competition.
“I think that this year’s seniors have made strides and great improvements. They have been gotten more serious in their last go-around,” Onufrieff said.
Senior co-captains and workhorses Crystal Kline and Mary Higgins have particularly been positive influences on the program. Kline had a consistent spot on the first varsity eight boat while Higgins was a mainstay on the second eight. The duo sets a good model for the rest of the team to follow.
“They’ve both done a wonderful job,” Onufrieff said. “They lead by example and everyone else wants to emulate them.”
Senior coxswain Erin Mills will be fighting with George Washington transfer, sophomore Trisha DiGiore and freshman Victoria Liang for the helm of the two varsity eights and the varsity four. Onufrieff is not able to make a prediction on the placement of her team members currently. She is more concerned with physical preparation at this time.
The team had respectable showings at the distance races of the fall. The first varsity boat came in 20th at the Head of the Charles and fifth at the Princeton Chase.
Onufrieff took the women down to Florida during the winter, giving the team an opportunity to row together and bond. The Red had two solid days of rowing but encountered some less-than desirable conditions
Other than that, the crew has been confined to ergometers and water tanks for the duration of the winter. While the strength training and conditioning has no doubt been beneficial, the women are “itching to get on the water.”
Most of the decisions regarding placement on boats will have to wait for the ice on Cayuga Inlet to thaw. Until then, the women will continue to erg, strengthening their arms and legs for one of the most tiring sports.
Recruiting efforts were also good for the Red. The novice crews swept first and second place at the Belly of the Carnegie, the sister race of the Princeton Chase, and will look to continue dominance in the sprints.
The women’s season begins on March 31, when George Washington comes to Ithaca.