April 5, 2006

Women's Crew Learns From Coach's Lessons

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With the excitement of March Madness still hanging in the air, representing college sports at its apex of our collective conscious, it’s easy to forget about the other college sports which are still going on. But the women’s rowing team is poised to transform itself into one of the more competitive programs nationally.

Head coach Chris Wilson returned to Cornell almost two years ago with a plan to make this happen. With an already impressive resume, which includes being the first woman to coach a men’s crew at a major collegiate program and an EAWRC coach of the year honor (both of which came during her tenure at Yale), Wilson’s second stint at Cornell began after she completed work for the US women’s crew team in the 2004 Athens Olympics. She served as the assistant women’s coach, working with the athletes on their training and technical preparation for races. Wilson brought this emphasis on technical expertise with her to Cornell and has made it the centerpiece of her coaching.

“The women have been held to higher standards for technical work,” Wilson said. “They’re getting a better understanding of what they’re trying to achieve.”

Practices under Wilson have reflected this determination to perfect the technical portions of the team’s stroke. The varsity eight meets at 5 a.m., twice a week, for small boat practices, and the entire squad meets for full practice five afternoons a week.

The morning practices have the girls working in single or pair boats, working on developing greater boat sense. This is all part of Wilson’s attempt to build a smarter rower, emphasizing that two ways to make a boat go faster are either having a more powerful stroke or having everyone moving together.

“The more matched people are in how they move together, the more effective their work is. Try to eliminate extra motion and have an awareness of how to use the blades to connect with others to move the boat,” Wilson said.

This past weekend’s showing, – finishing second behind highly competitive and defending EAWRC champs Yale – demonstrates both the payoffs and the need to continually emphasize the technical side of racing.

Wilson was pleased with the showing of her varsity team, especially since they lack the pure power that Yale possesses, but knows her team still needs to work on their boat sense and making their strokes more effective.

“Things broke down Saturday because as they tried to settle into base rhythms, they didn’t work together as well,” Wilson said.

She also sees room to improve the effectiveness of their stroke, noting that their average of 32.5 strokes per minute is good, but average for their competition is slightly higher at around 36 strokes per minute.

While it is likely that the varsity squad will have a competitive season and may even surprise some people with their finish, it is also important to keep an eye on the novice squad, who finished in first place this weekend.

The novice crew’s performance is just one indication of the rising expectations for the Cornell program.

While there may continue to be those who know nothing more of the sport than a knee-jerk response about the tortures of waking up early, those who follow college rowing will be hard-pressed to ignore the potential of the Cornell’s women rowing team.

Archived article by Tim Perone
Sun Staff Writer