Courtesy of Marko Djuranovic

Maxwell Kreutzelman ‘23, head coach of heavyweight rowing Todd Kennett, and Marko Djuranovic ‘24 at the 2022 Spring Awards Banquet.

November 1, 2022

Heavyweight Rowing Captains Find Success through Friendship and Hard Work

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Maxwell Kreutzelman ‘23 and Marko Djuranovic ‘24 are united by a shared purpose: a commitment to the men’s heavyweight crew team. They have been weapons on the Varsity Eight since the beginning, using a combination of talent and grit to push their team ahead. Throughout their years together, the pair have found success through hard work, determination, and friendship. Now, they lead together as the team’s elected co-captains. 

Kreutzelman began his athletic career with water polo. In his junior year of high school, he started to row as a way to cross-train and it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the sport. Shortly thereafter, he dedicated himself to training and quickly gained potential. 

“I saw an opportunity to go to a school, so I put all my eggs in one basket, tried as hard as I could, and I got here,” said Kreutzelman. 

Djuranovic was initially drawn to rowing because of his innate love for the water. 

“My dad suggested that I start to play a sport,” said Djuranovic. “I never really liked sports with a ball, like basketball or football. But I always loved the water and swimming, so one day I joined a rowing club.”

That club was the Veslački Klub Partizan, the best rowing club in Serbia. Throughout his adolescence, Djuranovic competed in races across Europe, stringing up an impressive list of accomplishments. After medaling in the European Junior Championships and competing in the World Rowing Junior Championship in 2018, Djuranovic found his way onto the Red’s roster. 

Djuranovic was lured to Cornell due to its academic rigor, but also because of the opportunities he saw in the rowing program. 

“Cornell checked all my boxes for what an ideal university would have,” Djuranovic said. 

Kreutzelman echoed Djuranovic, adding that Cornell provided the perfect balance between athletics and academics. 

“I chose Cornell because of the coach and the environment. I saw it as a way for myself to advance in terms of my rowing skills and academically,” Kreutzman said. “I saw a team where I could make a huge impact. I saw that I could make a difference on this team if I were to put the effort and commitment towards it.”

The pair met during Djuranovic’s first year at Cornell. They started off as roommates and instantly clicked. Connected by their passion for rowing and the desire to succeed, they formed a strong friendship that has carried them throughout their years together. 

“Marko and I are like-minded both in terms of how we lead and how we view the team on and off the water,” Kreutzelman said. “When it comes to both academics and athletics, we bounce ideas off each other and feed off each others drive for the sport. We both love the sport because of what it gave us and we give as much as we can back to it.” 

But balancing academics and athletics was not always easy. During his freshman year, Djuranovic was challenged by the transition to collegiate life. The rigor customary of Cornell is difficult for any student, but as an international student from Serbia, Djuranovic faced many additional challenges, such as living in a new country and adapting to a new culture. 

“I put in a lot of work to make the transition,” Djuranovic said. “But nothing would have been possible without my teammates, especially Kreutz. He was there for me from day one.”

Despite the initial hardship, both athletes have been in the Varsity Eight since their first year, utilizing their friendship to push each other to improve while also supporting each other throughout every twist and turn. 

Such support is needed simply due to the difficult nature of life as an athlete, which is often magnified for team captains. 

“You can’t tell the team what to do if you’re not doing it,” Kreutzelman said. “You have to show that you’re doing everything and then some to get everyone to follow you.”

During last year’s spring season, the pair depended heavily on each other for support. In early February, their previous captain and commodore, John “Jack” Robinson ‘22, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Robinson served as a cornerstone in the program during his years with the team, inspiring his teammates to be the best versions of themselves during every practice and regatta. 

Still grappling with the loss, Kreutzelman assumed the role of captain and led the team through an impressive spring season. The varsity eight ended the season with six first and second-place titles and earned top-ten finishes in the EARC Sprints Regatta and the IRA National Championship. 

Throughout it all, Djuranovic was alongside him. Since then, the pair have developed a healthy balance in their leadership this season; Kreutzelman shines when providing support off the water, while Djuranovic notices team dynamics and strategies in the boat. 

“Marko is very focused on and off the water,” Kreutzelman said. “He is one of the main focal points of our team. He is somebody you look up to on the water as somebody who is very technically gifted.”

Meanwhile, Kreutzelman has assumed much of the emotional labor of the team. 

“Kreutz is very organized and diligent,” Djuranovic said. “He knows what it takes to put in a lot of work and see results. Kreutz is also a great leader. You’ll see him pushing the whole team to their maximum so they can meet their potential.”

The pair have also found such success, in part, due to their strong bond with their coach, Todd Kennett ‘91. 

“Our coach has been one of the most impactful people in my life,” Kreutzelman said. “He’s very much a father figure for everyone on the team.” 

Kennett supports the team outside of rowing, while also pushing them to succeed. 

“If I’m having a rough day, he’ll just say ‘You know why you’re here. You know who you are. Don’t forget that,’” Djuranovic said. 

Pulling from their culture of mutual support and respect, the duo doesn’t have any plans of slowing down. 

Kreutzelman and Djuranovic were honored at the 2022 Spring Awards Banquet as the team’s commodores. They were selected by their teammates due to their commitment to hard work, leading by example, and truly embodying what it means to be a Cornell rower. Team commodores lead the team and act as the liaison between the coach and the rest of the group, often giving suggestions to the coaches when needed. 

Kreutzelman was also awarded the Courtney Award for his dedication on the water and in the classroom. Djuranovic received the Ackerman-Robinson award, recently renamed to honor Robinson, for his leadership, camaraderie, and competitiveness. 

The pair also secured IRCA Scholar-Athlete recognition for competing in the top boats while maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or higher. They also earned spots on the 2022 IRA All-Academic honoree list. 

This summer, Kreutzelman was also one of the three Cornell heavyweight rowers to compete at the 2022 Under 23 Rowing Championships. He represented the United States in the USA Quad. The previous summer, Djuranovic represented Serbia in the 8+. 

Last weekend, the team sent two coxed four boats to compete in the annual Head of Charles Regatta held in Cambridge, Mass. The first team, led by Kreutzelman and Djuranovic, finished second overall with a time of 15:42. The finish earned them the first-place title in the College Championship. 

In the meantime, Djuranovic and Kreutzelman persist on their path to greatness. As Kreutzelman heads into his last year rowing for the Red, the pair is determined to make it count. 

“I’m really excited,” Kreutzelman said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other crew.” 

The crew will continue to train in the winter months to prepare for their return in the upcoming spring season.