The Cornell men’s heavyweight rowing team boasts one of the most experienced first Varsity eight crews in recent memory, including five seniors and three juniors — all of whom rowed for the Varsity squad last year. Led by co-commodores Jim Voter and Brian Searle, the senior-laden crew features Gardner Yost, Alex Karwoski and Russ Mason, who are joined by junior class representatives Chris Massey, Kevan Zadeh and Jim Rectenwald.
“They’re coming along — they’re stronger than ever, and they seem to be doing a lot of things right. It’s now just a question of taking responsibility and stepping up and making this thing move,” said head coach Todd Kennett ’91.
Both the men’s and women’s teams enjoyed an unusually warm Spring Break in Ithaca, which enabled the crews to get in more water-time, according to Voter.
“We’re used to going out there in the morning and busting up the ice before we’re allowed to row,” he said. “This year … because guys weren’t cold, they were able to produce better on the water, and as a result I think we got in better training.”
Kennett was inclined to agree, noting “We had an incredible Spring Break, and around that time I saw them do some things that were pretty darn special. I haven’t had a group this fast, this early.”
He attributed such early speed in part to having such good water in the Cayuga Lake Inlet, which tends to make crews row a little better. Furthermore, Kennett pointed to this past weekend’s races at the San Diego Classic as “a pretty big wake-up call … in that not everything is right.”
The first Varsity eight crew had a questionable outing in last Saturday’s race, finishing third in the heat behind Navy, which ultimately led to Cornell being assigned an outside lane in Sunday’s Grand Final en route to a fifth-place finish. Last weekend’s performance aside, the men’s heavyweight coach remains confident that “there’s still a lot of speed in this group.”
Voter — himself a three-year member of the top Varsity crew — spoke to the importance of using the extra training the Red got in over Spring Break as an advantage over the rest of the competition. That competition will be on full display at Eastern Sprints — the league championship event held annually in mid-May that the crews spend all of their fall and spring season preparing for.
“I think they can medal at the Sprints, but they’re really going to have to buckle down and get serious,” Kennett said. “It’s not always working harder, sometimes it’s working smarter.”
“I think as a senior class and as a Varsity boat in general, our goal is to get onto the medal dock at Sprints. It’s been a long time since a Varsity crew has done that for Cornell,” Voter added.
From there, it’s on to IRAs, which take place in Camden, N.J., the week following graduation. However, as Kennett was quick to mention, “in order to get to the national championship, you have to go through Sprints.”
According to Voter, making it onto the medals dock at Eastern Sprints would put Cornell in a good spot to subsequently medal at IRAs.
“Ideally it would be a gold medal, but I think we’d all be pretty happy with even a bronze,” Voter said.
“Anything can happen [by that time of the year] — when you’ve got guys out of school, and they have a little bit of time to unwind and rest up and pay attention to what they’re doing,” Kennett explained. “It gets late enough in the year, the water gets fast; I don’t put anything by them.”
On the lightweight side, the goal “is to win Eastern Sprints and IRAs,” according to senior commodore Michael Bohs.
“That is our goal every year,” he said, adding that he feels the team has been “saying” it the past three years, but this year something is different.
“Our juniors and seniors all got a taste of winning our freshman years, when we won the freshman event two years in a row,” he continued. “But that was just a taste, this year there is a sense of urgency to win — and that sense of urgency is a result of guys truly wanting it.”
Like the heavyweight crew, the lightweight team had a productive Spring Break as well — one that included 18 practices over the course of nine days.
“Each practice we pushed ourselves to the brink, and as a result we were all exhausted by the end. But we also knew that we had gained so much from all the work we did, and we will definitely see the benefits throughout the course of the year,” Bohs said.
As far as specific improvements go, “there is always speed to gain, even for the Olympic rowers,” according to Bohs.
The commodore said that his team’s approach to practice is to put all focus and energy into each stroke so as to identify where the crew needs improvement, and then take the necessary steps to adjust accordingly.
“At the end of each practice, we want to come off the water faster than we were when we began the practice,” Bohs said.
Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown