Updated: Nov. 2, 2020 at 5:13 p.m.
Two athletes from the initial nine-member Class of 2024 remain in the men’s rowing program, according to a current rower and the team’s roster.
Athletic department officials said this summer that seven programs, including men’s rowing, would be cut at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season and that the team could register with GW as a club. In three interviews, rowers who would have been freshmen this season said they left GW because they want to compete at a higher level than a club team and are looking to join a program at another university.
“Once she started talking about budget constraints and things like that, I knew before she said it – I just knew rowing was going.”
Athletic department spokesperson Brian Sereno declined to confirm which freshmen are no longer with the program and if any freshmen planned to transfer to another school.
GW announced May 1 that nine freshmen would join the men’s rowing program in a release that is no longer available on the GW Sports website. Freshman rower Braeden Arthur confirmed GW’s initial freshman class of nine rowers, saying at least five of them transferred to schools like Syracuse or Oregon State, while some deferred enrollment at GW.
“There was a group chat of all the recruits – there’s nine of us,” Arthur said. “And I just remember, one by one, ‘Bye guys. I’m sorry. I’m unenrolling. This guy’s unenrolled. I’m leaving. I’m transferring.’”
On the morning of July 31, Arthur said the team was told to join a “super important” meeting. The team and multiple other programs joined the call, where they said athletic director Tanya Vogel looked “visibly upset” and informed them that men’s rowing and six other teams would be eliminated.
“There were already a lot of bad things going on in the rowing community in terms of the termination of programs,” Arthur said. “Once she started talking about budget constraints and things like that, I knew before she said it – I just knew rowing was going.”
During Arthur’s recruiting process, he listed GW as No. 1 or No. 2 in terms of rowing and academics. He said the decision to cut the program “stung” because he had worked hard to get recruited by the University, but he added that he’ll stick with the team and participate on the club level.
Baringer Lovaas, a former recruit who joined the program with his twin brother Grigsby, said he wanted to compete at the “highest level” possible, which pushed him to find a new team. The Lovaas twins transferred to Boston University but need to defer enrollment a year before claiming their spot on the roster.
“I love GW’s team to death, but the club status of them would hinder our development as athletes, and we felt that the best plan would be to find a new school and find a new program,” he said.
The twins were considering GW after their friend, current junior coxswain and fellow Boston College High School alum Luke Ames, committed to the program. Former head coach Mark Davis recruited the Lovaas’s, and they committed to row under current head coach Eric Gehrke.
Before the Lovaas twins joined the program, the Colonials’ Varsity Eight boat was coming off a No. 13 finish at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association finals in 2019 and a canceled 2020 spring season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Baringer Lovaas said he was “ecstatic” to make an immediate impact on a rising program.
“It’s really great to see the energy within the whole community and the amount of trust they had in each other and the amount of camaraderie that the team had,” Lovaas said. “I really like the campus and the school itself, and the ability to know that I can make an impact on a team on the rise, kind of shocking the world.”
Grigsby Lovaas said he and his brother are dedicating their gap year to intensive rowing training with the ARION program in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Lovaas added that he was “disappointed” in the University’s decision to eliminate the program because GW was his “plan A” this fall.
“We committed to the school to row, and we had a commitment as athletes,” Lovaas said. “Our plan was to row there for four years on a varsity status program. When I make a commitment to anyone, I expect that same level of commitment back. In a lot of ways, I feel like the University itself fell short.”
For the first week of August, Grigsby said he was “scrambling” to contact head coaches at other programs to let them know he reopened his recruitment. He added that the coaching staff, which he still keeps in touch with, helped them reach out to coaches on Lovaas’ behalf and support him through his transfer process.
“I can’t say enough good things about the coaching staff,” Lovaas said. “All three of them – Maddux, Dave and Eric – all three of them are just great guys. They were really, really helpful and really understanding of the entire situation.”
Henry Ryan, the team’s coxswain, said he deferred his enrollment after officials announced the program’s discontinuation. Ryan said he applied to schools like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Northeastern.
He said the canceled seasons in light of the COVID-19 pandemic made recruitment more uncertain than usual, so he was reluctant to officially unenroll because he was unsure if he would have other options.
“If that was the case then I would continue to stay at GW and start in the fall of 2021 and just cox club, basically,” Ryan said. “That’s not even that bad of an option for me, but I just wanted to pursue something more than that.
Belle Long contributed reporting.
This post was updated to include comment from Henry Ryan, a freshman coxswain originally slated to join the Class of 2024.