The past couple of seasons have been tough for the women’s rowing team. But the years of struggling culminated in the hiring of new head coach Barney Williams just a few weeks before Cornellians arrived on campus this August. The rowers, yet to meet their new head coach, were told of the new hire just a week before classes started.
Regardless of the coaching change and the seasons of struggle, the Red remained positive and defiant in the face of challenge.
“We had a little bit of a tough year last year,” said senior captain Alice Rudolph Shabinsky. “It definitely was a building year, but [we] came into this year ready to go. Not looking in the rearview mirror and just pushing forward.”
Williams immediately changed the squad’s offseason workout regimen. In past years offseason workouts had been mandatory and strictly enforced.
This year, the team put more of an emphasis on accountability. While the workouts and practices weren’t mandatory, the rowers held each other to a standard of excellence and strong work ethic.
“The difference [accountability] makes is that everyone who is at practice wants to be there and you’re trusting each other,” Shabinsky said. “You’re doing all you can to make the boat go faster so we emphasized that accountability.”
This shift in culture can be attributed to both coaching and the mentality of the rowers. The rowers did not want to see another unsuccessful season pass and the coach was determined to succeed.
“I wanted to create a very competitive environment, but I wanted an environment that was calibrated against the gold standard,” Williams said. “In our sport the gold standard is five minutes and 54 seconds. That’s the fastest time a women’s eight has ever rowed. That’s the standard we measure ourselves against.”
While Coach Williams may be new to the rowing scene at Cornell, he has years of experience in the sport and the hardware to prove it. Williams won a gold medal in the 2003 world championships in Milan and a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympic games. He also held the presidency at the Oxford boat club.
“The most exciting part which I realized right when I hit the ground was that there was a spirit of collaboration,” Williams said. “For me it was the opportunity to add to that.”
For Shabinsky, this season is important for a couple reasons. This season provides the opportunity to change the culture, reputation and record of her team. But it is also her senior season and her last in the Cornell uniform. For that reason and many others, this season holds a special place in her heart.
“In rowing we row a 2k (2,000 meters) and those last 500 meters are supposed to be your sprint and your fastest part,” Shabinsky said. “I kind of think about my four years [at Cornell] like that.”
The Red will kick off its spring season at the Doc Hosea Invitational Regatta in Camden, New Jersey, this Saturday.