As the GW men’s rowing team finished practice Tuesday, a group of young rowers pushed past them, rattling racks of boats as they scurried into Thompson Boathouse.
GW’s men shot each other quiet grins and calmly continued to stow their skinny shell. In a sport that is often associated with military-grade workouts and that usually requires ultra-human strictness and precision for success, the Colonials’ cool demeanor was out of the ordinary. But this relaxed attitude has come to define the GW men’s rowing team, head coach Greg Myhr said.
“We’re pretty level-headed, pretty down-to earth and pretty damn hard-working,” Myhr said after Tuesday’s practice. That hard work paid off last Sunday at the Occoquan Chase Regatta where GW “dominated,” senior Grant Lafarge said.
The Colonials had boats place first and third in the open men’s eight division in their first race of the season and took the three top spots in the open men’s four division as well.
But the team knows its work is just beginning. In collegiate rowing, the fall season is typically used to gauge a team’s abilities, while the spring season usually holds most of the intense competition.
Yet as GW tunes up for the spring, it faces a solid challenge this weekend at the storied Head of the Charles Regatta. The 43-year-old rowing tradition attracts crew teams from across the country – including the USA men’s national team, which placed third at the Beijing Olympics.
The highly touted programs that will race in Boston this weekend will likely be familiar faces this year, however. This season marks the first year GW will be a permanent member of the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges. In joining the powerful league – which boasts college rowing programs such as Yale, Harvard and Princeton Universities, and last year’s national champion, the University of Wisconsin – GW’s men are taking a major step, Myhr said.
“We’re trying to make something of ourselves, trying to be something we’ve never been before,” he said. “As far as letting us dream and letting us try, the University has really supported us.”
With the switch to the more prestigious association, though, comes highly improved competition. Myhr said he hopes his team can at least reach the middle of the new pack.
“We’d feel really good if we were in the middle of it,” he said. “We’re not going to have a paradigm shift this year.”
The rowers themselves feel they can improve on last year’s 20th place finish at the International Rowers Association National Championship. Younger rowers have really started to step up, said senior Erik Bergmann – while junior Dominic Abruzzese noted the Colonials return seven of nine rowers from their top boat. These factors, coupled with rowers seeking something to prove in a new conference, spell a team that expects to win come springtime.
But no matter how the team performs, its carefree attitude will ensure one thing. “It’ll be a fun year,” Myhr said.