Two consecutive top-three finishes at the Atlantic 10 Championships. A gold medal at last year’s conference tournament. Two straight coach of the year awards.
That is the story of the women’s rowing team’s recent successes. Under fifth-year head coach Eric Carcich, the Colonials have made huge strides, including their best result at the A-10 Championships last year, since 2003, placing third.
Now, after second, fourth and sixth place finishes at Sunday’s fall season opener, Head of the Potomac, GW is looking toward achieving its main goal: finally earning a bid to the NCAA Championships.
With a squad that features last year’s A-10 varsity-eight champion coxswain and stroke, and with full fall and winter seasons ahead, this may finally be the year GW is able to win the A-10 and clinch their NCAA Championships bid.
“Getting a bid to the NCAA tournament would be a dream come true,” senior stroke and co-captain Sarah Pickus said. “The way it works to get the NCAA bid is depth.”
As much as Carcich has been a program staple during these last few years of success, so has senior coxswain Haley Dannehower.
Sunday’s Head of the Potomac regatta marked the beginning of the end for Carcich and Dannehower, who started their journey together nearly five years ago at a summer rowing camp.
“It was the perfect storm,” Carcich said. “I was coaching [the men’s team] at the time, and you’re rarely recruiting a female coxswain to come and be a part of your program. When I came down to GW, she was going into her senior year, and it was kind of like it was meant to be.”
Together, Dannehower and Carcich have helped to elevate the rowing program, while garnering an array of awards in the meantime. Carcich was named the A-10 Coach of the Year the last two seasons, while Dannehower served as the coxswain for the V-8 boat that won first place in last spring’s A-10 championship.
“Strength in numbers. You can’t just have eight or nine strong girls. We need to have way more than eight girls on board, way more than eight girls willing to work,” Dannehower said. “And I think that’s what’s really cool about our team. We are willing to do anything to get that.”
The Colonials field three teams in most collegiate regattas, usually consisting of a V8 boat, which features eight rowers plus the coxswain, a second junior varsity-eight boat and a varsity-four boat, which features 4 rowers.
At Sunday’s Head of the Potomac, the first race of the fall season, GW raced three V8 boats.
The boat coxed by Dannehower came in second place (16:27.5), nearly 26 seconds behind first-place Georgetown (16:01.7). The other two GW boats finished in fourth (17:01.5) and sixth (17:09.9).
“It was a good opportunity to get a gauge of where we are, where our fitness work was like over the summer and build off that,” Carcich said after the race, “I think it’s a good starting point – we surely have a lot of speed to be gained.”
For this year’s team, that training started this summer as they, worked to turn each rower’s individual weaknesses into strengths, Pickus said.
“I think the strength we have is we got a bunch of women right now that are willing to work until we get it right,” Carcich said, emphasizing the team’s dedication to this season. “This sport’s about work. You put the work in and it’s gonna pay off in the end.”
At last season’s A-10 Championship, the Colonials secured a third-place overall finish, thanks to a gold medal performance by the V8 boat, along with a fourth place finish from the JV8 and a fifth place finish from the V4.
To improve upon those results, Dannehower said the team will have to push those rowers right on the cusp of first-place finishes to the next level.
After a solid start in the first race of the year, the team will compete next in Boston at the Head of the Charles on Oct. 19-20.