Each of the three Penn rowing squads will be represented this summer at the Under-23 World Rowing Championships, which will take place in Racice, Czech Republic.
In total, there are eight Penn rowers competing at the U23 Championships, with three from the men's heavyweights, two from the men's lightweights, and three from the women’s team. Out of the eight, six athletes will be representing the United States, with one athlete representing Panama and one representing Slovenia.
In the men's heavyweights division, recent graduate Will Purtill and rising junior Michael Wilson will be competing together for the U.S. in the men’s pair, and Isak Zvegelj will also be competing in the men's pair but for Slovenia.
Both Purtill and Wilson rowers travelled from Philadelphia to Sarasota, Florida to compete at the trials for U23 Worlds. Although they had just solidified their group, they had to go against a pair from Cornell that had supposedly spent the whole year training as a pair.
Despite this obstacle, Purtill and Wilson were able to muster a win and set themselves up to compete at the Championships.
For Purtill, who recently wrapped up his Penn rowing career, the opportunity comes as an incredibly pleasant surprise.
“It’s always been a dream of mine since high school to try out for the national team,” he said. “I never really thought I would have a chance.”
On the other hand, Purtill’s partner Wilson comes in with some experience in the event, having competed at U23 Worlds during a previous year.
Due to the academic school year having ended, the pair describes their training schedule as being fairly relaxed, with each day consisting of two to three practices, most of which involving high intensity work.
Wilson feels confident going into Championships after being able to train alongside both his teammate and another familiar face from Penn rowing.
“We’ve had a lot of help from our coach Bryan Volpenhein, who is also our coach at Penn,” Wilson said. “Without him, the training would be totally different, and it’s great that we can have him there [to] boost our training and give us a routine to follow and all that. He came here two years ago, and he’s really transformed the team since he’s gotten here.”
Purtill also heralds Volpenhein’s emphasis on the concept of “one boathouse,” meaning a more cohesive Penn rowing program, despite the three different programs within the team.
Among the lightweights who will be representing Penn rowing at the U23 Championships are rising sophomore Simon Dubiel, who will be competing in the lightweight men’s double sculls alongside Georgetown’s Eli Rabinowitz. In addition to Dubiel, Joseph Wilbur will be the lone Penn rower not competing for the U.S., as he will represent Panama as their single sculler.
Similar to Purtill, this will be the first time Dubiel is able to row for the U.S. in his rowing career. The opportunity to do so comes after COVID-19 caused him to dedicate himself heavily to his training. Dubiel did 12 to 13 training sessions a week, which also helped him adapt to rowing in double sculls. The change in divisions included alterations such as rowing with two oars as opposed to one.
Going into the Championships, Dubiel has high hopes, but doesn’t want to underestimate how talented his and his partner’s competitors are.
“I think just based off pure numbers, we’re in competition for sure,” Dubiel said. “There’s really no reason that we shouldn’t be competing with the very best, but obviously at the same time, [I’m] just expecting everyone there to be really fast and really on their game, but also knowing that we’ve prepared and put a lot of training into this. There’s really no reason that we shouldn’t be up there with them and competing to win as well.”
Whatever the result ends up being when he heads to Racice, Dubiel sees the opportunity to compete itself as being a valuable experience to bring back to the rest of his team.
In the women’s division, Penn will be represented by rising juniors Josie Konopka and Kate Maietta, who will be competing for the U.S. in the double sculls. Recent graduate and women’s captain Sarah Brunsberg will also be competing for the U.S., but she will be in the Women’s Four after her impressive showing at the U23 National Team Selection Camp in Iowa City, Iowa.
As was the case with all of the boats with one to two people, the selection onto the team came down to the trials event in Sarasota, Florida. Once Penn Athletic Club deemed Konopka and Maietta’s speed acceptable, they were able to compete at trials, where they won and were able to advance to the Championships.
To prepare for the global competition, Konopka and Maietta participated in the Schuylkill Navy Regatta on June 19, where they faced off against some elite-level competition.
“We were racing senior-level crews, so women who are in their later 20’s,” Maietta said. “They’re out of college, they’ve been training for the senior national team for a while, and so racing them was good experience to be able to race crews faster than us and get used to not necessarily always winning like we did at trials.”
The pair has also been practicing against the other boats at the club, which has helped them to get experience learning where they want to make their moves in their race and figure out what they need to improve on.
After a successful trials period, Maietta sees her pair’s prospects at the Championships as being very much up in the air, as they ready to compete against the world’s best.
“Sort of the fun part about this is that we don’t really know how we’re going to do,” Maietta said. “The women’s double is about class [and] fit. It’s not like the U.S. always wins or always loses. It’s pretty variable, so it’s not like there’s huge pressure on us to win because the U.S. always wins.
"We can just put it all out there and see where we land. It’s obviously stressful because it’s Worlds, but it’s also low-stress in a way because we’re just going to go see how fast we are.”
While Maietta is looking forward to the racing itself, she is also excited about the week that she’ll be in the Czech Republic before they start racing. During the week, her and her competitors will be training together and getting to know each other. Maietta sees this as being useful for when she returns to Penn in the fall and can incorporate what she learns from the other competitors in how she and her team trains and competes.
The U23 World Rowing Championships will go from July 7-11, with Penn’s athletes likely competing all along that five-day stretch.