Graduation will hit all three of Cornell’s crews hard this year, as the Red stands to lose a class of rowers that set new standards for dedication and determination.
The women will have ten seats to fill in the fall, but it’s the intangibles these seniors will take with them that the team will miss the most.
“They were uncommonly competitive,” said head coach Melanie Onufrieff of the Class of 2004. “They were dedicated to going as fast as they could.”
As freshman, many of this year’s seniors were in the novice eight boat that won Eastern sprints and posted an undefeated season — the first ever for a crew at Cornell.
While it has been hard to repeat that success, the seniors have never stopped trying. Every day is a chance to go faster and work harder, and the women never miss an opportunity to push themselves and the team to the limit. The group has produced two coxswains, unprecedented strength, and an example of hard work and commitment that Onufrieff hopes will be effective long after they are gone.
“Their legacy will be a legacy of toughness,” Onufrieff said. “As a class they’ve raised the bar. What they’ve brought to the program has bled down to the classes that have followed. Now that’s the standard.”
And they’re not done yet. So far this year, the seniors have led the team to the Parent’s Cup and a sweep of Dartmouth, victory in the Raritan Cup over Rutgers and Penn, and brought home the Class of ’89 Plate with the most overall points against Rutgers and Penn.
“I think their greatest accomplishments are yet to be seen,” Onufrieff said. “They still have to race at Sprints this weekend. I imagine these guys are prepared to leave quite a mark.”
The lightweight crew will lose less in numbers, but graduation will still have a deep impact on the team.
“These guys have gone above and beyond working hard,” said head coach Todd Kennett. “They have helped make it a way of life. Their ideas of how hard you can work has pushed the squad to a new level.”
This year, the senior lightweights have led the crew to an unprecedented 9-1 varsity record, winning every trophy race along the way. Drew Tennant, Tom Hendrix, and Barbara Portner are three seniors that Kennett will especially miss.
“All year long he has provided really steady character in the boat,” Kennett said of Tennant. “If you’re going Tennant speed, you’re going varsity speed.”
Hendrix has continued to provide the young team with leadership all year, despite spending the whole year season from a broken back.
“His leadership has been in being there day in and day out,” Kennett said. “He came up big for us.”
Portner, a coxswain that Kennett calls a fierce little racer, has given depth and drive to the coxswain ranks.
“I hope their legacy will be that academics have to come first,” Kennett said, “but that you can structure your life to succeed academically and perform at the top level on the water.”
The seniors on the heavyweight squad have made a collegiate career out of hard work and pushing personal boundaries.
“They don’t rely on anyone but themselves to become stronger and fitter,” said head coach Dan Roock. “They are responsible for all of their improvement.”
As freshmen, the talent and potential of the class of 2004 was buried within a weaker team. But in the four years since, this group has elevated the team’s level of competition through dedication and perseverance.
“The hallmark of this bunch is how much better they’ve gotten over the past years,” Roock said. “To the man, they are stronger, fitter, and faster.”
Roock feels that the seniors’ greatest legacy is in a somewhat unconventional competition. Every year, the three Cornell crews come together for an intra-squad contest for the Schwartz Cup. Before the races begin, the teams compete to see who can perform the best skit.
“This group has won the skit competition every year,” Roock said. “Their skit quality is outstanding.”
Roock believes the four years of work this class has put in will come together in its last two competitions, Eastern Sprints and national championships.
“Their discipline in training and willingness to take the extra step, the extra work out has helped them improve,” he said. “I’m hoping their greatest accomplishment is yet to come as we move into the final races of the year.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Staff Writer