There is at least one thing constant with all college sports – kids have to graduate. While this may be an obvious point to make, it often takes a harsh reminder for this to truly sink in.
After losing 14 seniors from last year’s squad, a crew which finished one and a half seconds behind Yale for the national championships at the IRA Regatta, men’s lightweight crew head coach Todd Kennett ’91 was sure at the beginning of this season that he was headed for one of the most dreaded terms in sports – “a rebuilding year.”
This term is so despised because traditionally it implies that the team will be unable to seriously compete, an inherently abhorrent idea in sports. While it is still early in the crew’s season, it is safe to say that the men’s lightweight squad will certainly be able to hold up its end of the competition.
Two weeks ago, the crew swept all five of its races, beating Ohio State, Massachusetts, Marist, Hobart and Ithaca College. After that strong showing, the varsity crew finished this past weekend in second place, behind Harvard but ahead of Ivy rival Penn in an impressive performance. Meanwhile, that same day, the Red took home victories in the third varsity race by a convincing 24 seconds, and both freshmen races by 12 seconds.
The performances this past weekend point to the main reason why Cornell will be able to compete this season – everyone on the crew is doing its job and performing ahead of what Kennett thought possible.
“The whole team is stepping up,” Kennett said. “We have three seniors coming out of nowhere. Tyler Jones, Andrew Diebold and Nate O’Connor weren’t major figures last year but now are filling huge roles. The seven sophomores are unbelievable. They do a great job of pushing the competitive environment [on the team].”
It has been this competitive spirit which has driven the team so far and was evident during the race against Harvard and Penn.
“There were moments where it looked like everything would go wrong, but the guys just pushed harder,” Kennett said. “We raced very aggressively.”
The key for the remainder of the season will be for the crew to combine its raw base power and aggressive racing style with further improvement in the more technical aspects of racing.
Kennett noted how his squad needs to work on making its strokes more efficient and limit motion in the boat which hinders speed. He stated his crew needed to be, “more relaxed and less like a bull in a china shop.”
This is one aspect of a rebuilding year that Cornell cannot escape – a lack of real experience. Kennett knows that as the freshmen and sophomores get more time simply out on the water and the juniors and seniors get more experience being in a leadership position, this experience combined with natural talent will lead to even better results.
When asked if he thought his crew would be able to put it all together by season’s end and finish as strongly as last year’s squad, Kennett was hesitant to answer either way, simply stating, “I wouldn’t put it by them.”