April 6, 2007

W. Rowing Changes Coaches

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Assuming the inclement and frigid weather clears up, the women’s rowing team will race Princeton and Radcliffe tomorrow in the crew’s second event of the spring season. However, for the past month, the squad has been dealing with a far greater challenge than any presented on the water or by the weather: the sudden loss of its head coach.
Only three weeks ago and two weeks before the crew’s first spring race, former head coach Chris Wilson was replaced by assistant coach Hilary Gehman.
“Following a lengthy review, we appointed a new head rowing coach,” said Director of Athletics Andrew Noel. “Hilary Gehman has been appointed interim head coach. … Given the stature of this position, we anticipate conducting a national search following the season.”
Noel declined to comment on reasons for the decision or Wilson’s current status because of Cornell’s policy of not commenting on personnel matters.
According to the team media guide, Wilson spent a season as the women’s crew interim head coach before being named the Staley Women’s Rowing Coach in July 2005. After serving as the head women’s rowing coach at Yale from 1997 to 1999, she served as Cornell’s interim associate athletic director and assistant to the director of athletics for special projects from 1999 to 2001. Wilson also served as the assistant women’s rowing coach for the U.S. national team. Wilson declined to comment on the change.
“Everyone was really shocked just because we didn’t see it coming and it’s pretty unfortunate timing, right before the season,” said senior captain Michelle Furbacher. “That was the main thing, because there weren’t really any athlete-coach problems — we had no idea. … [Wilson] was a really strong mentor for me, so I am still talking to her.”
Gehman trained with the U.S. National team for six years and was a two-time Olympian rower for the U.S. National team. She had been the assistant rowing coach since August 2004, serving as the novice coach. Peter Steenstra, formerly the men’s heavyweight intern coach, has been named the interim assistant women’s rowing coach.
“It [has been] an unfortunate situation that the team has had to endure before a race even starts, but … everybody is doing a great job of staying focused on our goals for the season, and on getting faster and on moving forward,” Gehman said before last weekend’s opening races.
“People were a little worried that [the athletes] weren’t being thought of so much, that they weren’t so concerned about us because they took our coach away,” Furbacher said. “After meeting with the athletic director and everything, I think we just understood the situation a little more and we want to work together to get over it. … [Noel], and the assistant athletic director and a few other administrators were friends with Chris, and so, it was sort of tough for them.”
Both captain and coach stressed that after team-building activities and much discussion, the crew just wants to focus on its season, despite not knowing why the change occurred.
“The timing is not ideal, but people are dealing with it a lot better than I thought,” Furbacher said. “A couple weeks ago, I was really worried about this, but things seem to be going really well.”
The crew captain also added that having a familiar and respected coach in Gehman and a new assistant coach in Steenstra has helped the team move on and maintain its focus.
“People had questions, but it didn’t take too long for everyone to realize that it’s frustrating not having the answers, but that it doesn’t really matter because what really matters is our season, and that we keep training and all that,” Furbacher said.