Sporting Life

A big year for men’s heavyweight crew

An Ivy League title—and a long-awaited win over Harvard.

Evan Frondorf ’14 is a research fellow at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

Steven G. Smith

Steven G. Smith

Men’s heavyweight crew coxswain Chris Carothers ’16 celebrates the Elis’ win at New London. View full image

Tom Pagel ’16 knew his boat was heading for victory in The Race, even before the first varsity oar broke the Sunday morning calm of the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. “I felt like we had it won in the changing room,” he says. As the Harvard and Yale crews warmed up in the same boathouse, the pre-race demeanor of the two boats—and the news that the Yale junior varsity crew had won its event— all pointed to the men’s heavyweight crew breaking its seven-year losing streak in the Yale-Harvard Regatta. They picked a good year: this was the 150th edition of the regatta, which is America’s oldest intercollegiate athletic competition.

Yale’s varsity boat proved Pagel prescient as they cruised to a dominant victory over the Crimson eight in the traditional four-mile race. Their bow crossed the finish line in just 18:35.8—the fastest-ever time for an upstream race. At 16.7 seconds better than Harvard, it was Yale’s largest margin of victory since 1983. The crew jumped out to an early lead, and the result was hardly in doubt during the final miles. “We won that race throughout the fall, winter, and spring with our training,” says oarsman David DeVries ’16. The win was a testament to the team’s focus on rebuilding the storied program under head coach Steve Gladstone, a major figure in collegiate rowing who had won 11 national titles as coach at Brown and UC–Berkeley. “When I came to Yale, I really jumped on board with Steve Gladstone and his goal of building this program back up,” says varsity coxswain Chris Carothers ’16. “I was ready to be part of Yale for [those] four years where you work all the way up to the top.”

And The Race was only the triumphant cap on a highly successful season that saw the Bulldogs break other long-standing droughts. Three weeks before the regatta, the varsity crew entered the Eastern Sprints championship undefeated and ranked atop the EARC, a large conference including the Ivy League and other northeastern schools. The Bulldogs held a similar distinction last year before finishing sixth at Sprints.

But they knew a better result was coming this year—another hunch, this time from Carothers: “I knew we were going to be ranked number one, but this year was definitely a different feeling. I could sense it. As a cox, you can sense people’s mentalities. You can sense the mood of the boat. It was a different lineup, a whole different crew, and a whole different feeling.” Yale swept its way to its first Eastern Sprints win and Ivy League title since 1982.

Most surprising—and promising—is that no seniors sat on the varsity eight during the championship wins; all members of the boat will be back next year. But beyond the top eight, this team has depth. “The varsity will probably not look the way it does today,” predicts Pagel. “People will step up and challenge for seats.” In other words—and this time the Bulldogs can say it with relish instead of regret—just wait till next year.

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