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UNH crew turns heads in Head of the Charles return

In the largest two-day regatta in the world, the UNH women’s crew team came in third in the Head of the Charles Regatta race held  Oct. 22-23. It is a 5-kilometer race taking place on the Charles River in Massachusetts. Both the men’s and women’s crew teams had a boat in the event.

“For the women’s team, it was great for them to bag third. Sometimes when a team that doesn’t usually come in first wins, like they did last year, people can think it was a fluke. Coming in third this year proves that it’s because they’re good,” coach Rachel Rawlinson said. “I think on the men’s side, we haven’t been up the Charles with them in a while, but they were right in the mix with a whole lot of regional teams.”

“There were about as many competing here as there were in the Olympics as a whole,” senior Anna Simpson said.

Senior Courtney O’Brien also mentioned that the women’s crew team won this event last year. O’Brien said that they “were pretty excited to see how [they]would stack up again.”

Many of last year’s crew team members returned to the Charles for another shot at the gold. However for some, it was a first-time experience.

“It was the first time in my time at UNH that we’d been given the opportunity to race in the Charles,” junior Aidan Reo said.

The women’s boat that won third place was made up of coxswain Emily Villeneuve and rowers Megan Mottola, Simpson, O’Brien and Sydney Michalak. The men’s boat was made up of Coxswain Andrea Jaskulski and Rowers Will Amar, Grant Erickson, Reo and Ronnie Houston.

The men’s boat in particular was an inexperienced pack heading into the Head of the Charles.

“Four of the five of us in the men’s boat had never raced in the Head of the Charles before,” Jaskulski said.

Placing in one of the top spots will earn you a selection into next year’s race. But for UNH, the experience is enriching in itself.

“If you end up placing well you get an automatic bid for next year, which is pretty cool, but even getting to race in it is really cool.” Simpson said.

O’Brien said that “for the fall season this is [their] biggest race.” The Wildcat crew team works all throughout the fall season preparing for one of the biggest events for all teams competing.

The weather conditions were not ideal on the day, and it became an instrumental factor in the race.

“There was a lot of wind, which means bad news for boats that sit really low on the water,” Simpson said.

For reference, Michalak, a junior in her third year of rowing said,  “No wind, flat water are ideal conditions.”

Barry University was the first to cross the line, then Canadian native program Carleton University. Much of Carleton University’s success may have been driven by the fact that it is a reguraly funded program which “is a very normal thing,” according to Rawlinson.

The performance of the top two schools did not discourage the UNH Crew team, but rather motivated them.

“Both teams helped push our women down the course, because our women could see them coming and kept pushing,” Rawlinson said.

Rawlinson also emphasized the preparation that goes into Crew races.

“When it comes to the race itself preparation is a big piece. The Head of the Charles is known as a coxswains’ race and so they do a lot of work ahead of time.” Rawlinson said.  “Knowing the course, studying it, practicing how to take turns, and knowing how to take turns in a way that keeps the boat level. [Villenueve] and [Jaskulski] definitely did their homework, they knew the line they wanted to make.”

The pride of the UNH Crew team and the overall enjoyment of racing the Charles does not stem from the end result. The team is encouraged to be able to compete with some of the best programs, despite not having as many tools and advantages as other programs.

“I think it’s really cool that somehow we can compete with people who have done it since high school and do have money. It’s a great feeling to know that we don’t need those things to be a successful team,” Simpson said.

And unlike most sports, the outcome depends entirely on athlete effort. Boats are set out are entirely on their own for the entire race, as Rawlinson has no say in the in-game progress of the team.

“In the world of the rower and the coxswains, they have to own it and really know what’s going on,” Rawlinson said.

In sum, racing the Charles was once again a full team success, despite what the end result may be. Rawlinson admires her team’s performance in the race.

“They’re a great group to work with and I feel very privileged to work with them,” she said.

COURTESY OF RACHEL RAWLINSON The UNH women’s crew team posing with their bronze medals after the two-day regatta.
The UNH women’s crew team posing with their bronze medals after the two-day regatta.

the role as host and now have the opportunity to avenge the loss from the year before. Through the deep history, head coach Steve Welham remains focused on execution, and finishing the job this time around.

“We feel that we execute and do what we have to do, in and around that goal in the final third [referring to the overtime period] that we can have a good night [tonight].” he said.

As noted, the Wildcats and Black Bears have always played each other tight. Dating back to 2014, the two played to a 0-0 draw in double overtime. In 2015, the Wildcats fell to the Black Bears 2-1 in overtime. This season, up in Orono, UNH fell once again in the overtime frame 1-0. The theme recurring in each of these matchups, is the extra time needed to settle the score.

Welham explains that the playoff game is much different than the regular season game however, and that at any point, regardless of who tho opponent may be, one moment can change the game.

“In playoffs, it’s those one or two special moments that can change a game…we are switched on the whole time in the game,” Welham said. “For [offense], it’s about execution and finding how we can make those one or two moments ours and positive [for us].”

In the past couple of years, the America East championship tournament has proven to be an unpredictable finish. The last time a No. 1 seed went on to win the conference title was 2011, when Boston University, before they disbanded from America East, won the conference title. In 2014, UNH won the conference championship as the No. 3 seed, the first team to ever do so. With a conference as competitive as America East, any team could win any given night especially come playoff time.

“You flip a coin in this conference anybody can beat anybody. It just depends almost when you play them [and] where you play them,” Welham said. “It’s so close, it’s so wide open, but again, it’s step by step.”

Through all the parody and excitement, the Wildcats remained dialed in on the goal of getting the best of Maine, a team they have not beaten since 2011, going 0-5-1 in the years preceding. The first home playoff game at Bremner Field since 2014 provides  “an opportunity to set things right a little bit,” Welham stated, as the playoff demons from last season have an opportunity to be exercised tonight. The last time the Wildcats hosted an America East quarterfinal game, they went on to win the conference championship.

It’s win or go home as the two teams will do battle once again at Bremner Field tonight at 7 p.m.

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