Over the weekend, the No. 11-ranked heavyweight rowing team traveled to Princeton, N.J., to face off against Ivy rivals Princeton and Yale for the Carnegie Cup. After competing in four races, the Red finished the day in second place, leaving the host Tigers alone in first.
Saturday’s regatta was marred by windy and rainy conditions — just another typical weekend for Cornell given the inclement weather in Ithaca this spring. Weather has seemed to be a common stumbling block this season for the team, as was the case in the squad’s blowout loss to Harvard in March. Though the Red was able to keep the time margins closer this time around — between three and seven seconds — every second counts as the biggest race of the season, the Eastern Sprints, draws closer. The Frosh boat managed to finish behind Princeton by a margin of 4.5 seconds, edging out Yale by over 13 seconds.
This season has been split for the Frosh boat, as the squad has gotten the best of four of the eight teams it has raced against. Directing the boat is heavyweight assistant coach Matthew Smith. A former U.S. Olympian and graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School, Smith knows a thing or two about hard work and the value of perseverance and dedication. After joining the coaching staff in 2008, Smith has led the Red’s rookie squad to its best back-to-back campaigns in recent years.
“I would be nowhere near the level I am at without someone like coach Smith to push me along,” said freshman Justin Stamp, a walk-on to the heavyweight team.
Stamp describes Smith’s coaching style as different from what he first expected. Smith expects the best out of his rowers, Stamp explains, but does it in a way that is not motivated out of fear. Rather, the coach inspires the rowers to want to make him proud and not disappoint their fellow teammates.
For rowers like Stamp, this year has served as a useful learning curve. A rural Rhode Island native, Stamp is one of eight children, one of whom also attends Cornell. This year, he came to his parents’ alma mater to study Applied Economics and Management. Though Stamp was involved in many sports over the years, including football, track and wrestling, he never thought that he would join any teams once coming to Cornell. One might wonder what inspired this so-called farm boy to take a chance on pursuing a sport like rowing. After taking his swim test during Orientation Week, Stamp talked to current members of the crew team, who convinced him to give it a shot, the freshman walk-on explained.
“You just come out, have the coaches talk to you and then you go through a physical education course the first semester to see if you can help the team or are an asset to it,” Stamp explained when asked about the process of walking on to the team. “Then, the coaches decide if they want to take you, and you make the Frosh team.”
Joining a Division I varsity sport is not as simple as it may seem, though. The rowers have morning practices most days from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., in addition to afternoon practices starting at 5:00 p.m., lasting up to three hours. The rowers are also expected to work out independently during the day as well, which includes lifting, running and working out on the erg machines. All of the effort that the team puts into training is reaped tenfold, according to Stamp.
“It’s a completely rewarding experience,” he said. “You gain so much from being involved in a sport on campus and you can potentially give so much back to the team. It’s a two-way street. It’s not easy — it’s a lot of effort and a lot of time. It’s one of — if not the most — rewarding things I’ve done at Cornell so far.”
Rowing is unique from other Cornell sports in that it is a combination of a team and individual sport. As Stamp explains, everyone in the boat understands that he needs to pull his own weight.
“You are working together as a boat, but at the same time you are competing against everyone else to see who can pull best,” Stamp said.
The Frosh boat maintains an unusual combination of recruits and walk-ons, making it even more important to develop a strong team chemistry, which Stamp says comes together through practice.
“Being able to trust your teammates and know that they can pull and work just as hard as you do is important,” he said.
As the season winds down, Stamp says that he is focusing on spending as much time in the water as possible over the next three weeks to apply what he has learned on land in the upcoming Eastern Sprints — the annual ECAC rowing championship held in Worcester, Mass.
Original Author: Lauren Ritter