The winning varsity eight celebrate: Catie Gloo '04, Leslie Nichols '04, Stacey Bowen '06, Stephanie Knabe '06, Meghan Musnicki '05, Jessie Selock '05, Nora Lahr '04, and Jill Moler '05
The women's crew team takes the NCAA title for the first time ever.
by Jeffrey Morris '04
With the spring academic semester coming to a close and the campus community preparing for the 2004 Commencement, the women's crew team was finishing up the last two weeks of training for the NCCA Division III Rowing Championships. On the surface, those days down at the boathouse on Cayuga Lake were just another stepping-stone to the ultimate goal. The fall 5k racing had passed long ago, as had the agony of winter ergometer workouts, spring training in Georgia, weekly seat racing, and the first-ever undefeated regular season for the varsity and junior varsity boats. Head coach Becky Metz Robinson '88, M.S. '94, was looking west to Sacramento, requiring her oarswomen to remain in top condition through daily runs. She was also developing a technique to overcome the number-one-ranked Smith College, which had beaten Ithaca at the ECAC National Invitational Regatta.
But practice performances were poor. Some rowers questioned Coach Robinson's plan of action, which included experimentation with lineup changes. The varsity eight forgot the success of the season and allowed doubt to affect their mental attitude.
These feelings were repressed through team activities at Cayuga Nature Center's high ropes course; visualization and mental preparation meetings with Craig Shelley, chair of the graduate program in exercise and sport sciences; and nightly team dinners set up by parents. Even so, insecurities were carried as extra baggage when we boarded the plane at Syracuse's Hancock Airport.
The spectacle at Lake Notoma was sublime, leaving rowers breathless upon first sight. After a practice on the course, commodore Leslie Nichols '04 disclosed to Coach Robinson that she could not handle the overall negativity and frustrated attitude of the team. Robinson responded with a group activity that I'd swear changed the fate of the Ithaca women's rowing season. The coach sat the group down in a circle beneath a tree about a hundred yards from the race course and let them talk. The conversation gave the rowers and coaches a chance to let out what they were feeling -- fears, prejudices, perceptions of teammates, and hopes for the race. The tension was broken. I was amazed at the ability of everyone to share aspects of their personality that rarely get revealed, opening up things that are so often hidden by fears of being judged.