Sporting Life

Spring sports: end of a rowing era

Steve Gladstone finished his collegiate coaching career with a win over Harvard.

Evan Frondorf ’14, a risk consultant in San Francisco, writes frequently about sports for the magazine.

Joel Furtek ’90

Joel Furtek ’90

Steve Gladstone is stepping down after 13 years and three national championships at Yale. View full image

Zamani Feelings

Zamani Feelings

The women’s varsity four won silver at the national championship. View full image

When the bow of the Yale varsity eight crossed the finish line in New London on June 10, nearly 12 seconds ahead of Harvard, it marked the end of one of the greatest collegiate coaching careers of all time, regardless of sport. After more than 50 years coaching college crews, the incomparable Steve Gladstone stepped down from his post leading the Bulldog heavyweights.

Yale was the final stop in a coaching career marked by 14 IRA national championships, tied for the all-time lead. When Gladstone took the helm in 2010, Yale had not won Eastern Sprints and the associated Ivy League title since 1982, and had only three victories against Harvard in the preceding 25 years. Now, the Bulldogs have streaks of seven in a row in Eastern Sprints and six in the Yale-Harvard Regatta.

Gladstone, who Yale sports publicists once billed as “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” began his career at Princeton before stints at Harvard, Brown, and Cal. But that only tells part of the tale: he has also served as Cal’s athletic director, coached US Olympic teams, and worked as an on-air commentator for Olympic rowing coverage.

 “There’s an element of melancholy and sadness,” says Gladstone, reflecting on his retirement. “But the transcendent feeling is of gratitude. Gratitude that I was able to do what I did at a very, very high level at a number of institutions. It’s enormous gratitude to a higher power. Gratitude to all the people that came into my life in this process.” That list, as Gladstone enumerated in detail, is filled not just with the athletes he has coached over five decades, but with a family that supported an “obsessive human being” and all the others who made his career possible—including Yale team physician Elizabeth Gardner ’01, operations coordinator Joel Furtek ’90, and executive deputy athletic director Ann-Marie Guglieri.

This season, Yale’s top boat failed to medal at the IRA regatta, though the second varsity took silver. But Gladstone says the effort to succeed is as important as winning. “It’s not just about hoisting a trophy,” he says. Endeavoring to be the best inevitably comes with ups and downs, and it’s being able to persevere through those ups and downs that actually shapes us.”

Now in his 80s, Gladstone may be retiring from full-time coaching, but he’s not really slowing down. “Breaks don’t work for me very well,” he says. “I know myself well enough to know that I don’t play golf.” In fact, he will be coaching the US national eight for the world championships to be held in September. “I want to be in a position where, at the end of the day, I can say, ‘That was something of value to some people,’” he says. Given the lives he’s touched over a half century, that doesn’t sound like anything new—just the next chapter in a historic legacy.

The women’s rowing team also enjoyed another successful season, with a fifth-place finish at the NCAAs that matched last year’s mark and represented the first pair of consecutive top-five finishes for the program since the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The varsity four earned silver and won their Ivy title, while, in their 40th Case Cup meeting with the Harvard women’s team that still calls itself Radcliffe, the varsity eight won for the tenth straight season—an unparalleled streak in a rivalry that the Bulldogs now lead, 25–14–1.

Sam Rubin ’95

Sam Rubin ’95

Jenna Collignon ’25 had a breakout season on the women’s lacrosse team. View full image

In ways both encouraging and frustrating, the spring season for women’s lacrosse was much the same as it was last year. Their final record was 11–6, same as in 2022—marking the program’s best two-year stretch since 2007-08. But the ultimate result was once again heartbreak, as the Bulldogs lost in the Ivy League championship game for the second straight year. They were left just below the cut for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s definitely frustrating being so close and ultimately failing to get there,” says Jenna Collignon ’25, who had a breakout season, leading the team in goals and points after starting just three games her first year. “We have made program history by advancing to the championship game the last two years. Now we just have to complete it.”

The season began with a hot start for the Bulldogs: they sprinted out to a 9–2 record, their best since 2002, and they soon looked like the team to beat for the Ivy title. Highlights included a win over perennial power Princeton—their first since 2007—and a comeback 15–14 victory at Duke in which Collignon scored seven goals. Yale rose as high as No. 13 in the national rankings. Collignon was named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List, an honor that goes to the best players in college lacrosse.

But in April, the Bulldogs dropped three crucial Ivy games and ceded first place to Penn. After they took down Princeton again in the league semifinals, they got another chance as they faced Penn for the championship and an automatic NCAA bid. But the thrilling game, tied at 14, headed into a brutal sudden-death overtime in which Penn captured the win with an early goal.

At No. 29 in the NCAA RPI rankings heading into tournament selections, the Bulldogs were once again just on the edge of the 29-team field. Collignon is confident that the Bulldogs will break through soon. “The fact that we know we are capable of getting there is reassuring in itself, but we are all determined to make it real next season.”

In an always-competitive Ivy field, the men’s team found itself in the middle of the Ivy League pack after the regular season. Some signature wins propelled them into the NCAA Tournament field for the seventh consecutive season, where they fell to Georgetown in the first round. Matt Brandau ’23 was named New England Player of the Year and earned multiple All-American honors. 

The comment period has expired.