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The Varsity Four women's rowing team competes in the Doc Hosea Invitational at Cooper River in Camden, N.J., on March 27.

Credit: Borna Saeednia

With the return of spring sports, Penn women's rowing is also back on the Schuylkill River with goals aimed for the NCAA championships.

In its first post-COVID-19 races, women’s rowing had a strong start, with boats placing first last week at the Doc Hosea Invitational and second this past weekend at the Connell Cup. But the captains of the team assured that this is only the beginning.

The DP sat down with the team’s three senior captains — Josie Konopka, Izzy Harrington, and Emily Strambi — to give us a perspective of how the rest of the season will play out.

1. How has training for the season been so far?

JK: “Training's been pretty focused the whole year. We had a great fall and some pretty good fall performances, and then, for the winter, everyone was really focused on our goals that we have set for this spring, and we got a lot of consistent training in.”

IH: “We've been training pretty much since we got back on the campus all together in the fall. The winter season is technically like our offseason, but as soon as our fall races ended, we begin prepping for the spring. So when we were in six-hour weeks, we had a lot of captains’ practices, where [a] majority of the team would still show up. Everyone with a goal in mind that come March, April, and May, [it’s] going to be in racing season and the work that we were putting in then is going to pay off much later on and farther in the future.”

ES: “We've been having a really good training block ever since our training trip in Florida, which was in January. We're just really focused, making a lot of good improvements. There's a lot of people working hard, everyone on the team works really hard, but we've really had everyone kind of step up to the plate, putting [in] a lot of extra work for the last couple months.”

2. What is the team like right now?

JK: “It's a really great group. We've had really great focus and energy throughout the year from all class levels, all members of the team.”

IH: “I think we've had really great focus even back in, November/December, when it was kind of harder to feel what racing season was going to be like, especially because the majority of our team hasn't had a college racing experience — even the juniors on our team haven't experienced a full spring. Myself and the other seniors are the only people that have kind of been through it, and we were freshmen at the time. It's really cool to see how focused everyone has been, despite not having a framework to go off of.”

ES: “I would say over the past few months, but also the whole year, we've really had our eyes set on the NCAA championships that are at the end of May and qualifying for those. We've had this kind of guiding force ever since we've stepped foot on campus in the fall. We're just really, really motivated and have really good morale, and people are working super hard.”

3. The team recently had a race on March 27 and placed first. What are some things we should be looking out for from the rowing team this season?

JK: “Every race is different. We have a really tough schedule, so we're looking to perform our best every race we go to, and we're trying to learn stuff from every team. So just looking at overall team development, if we're doing well, then we'll be putting up good fights against our competitors, occasionally with wins. And our end goal is, obviously, actually championships, performing well there, and then hopefully getting a bid to the NCAAs.”

IH: “The races that we have this spring, a lot of them are races that we've never competed [at] before. I think the goal with that is just to kind of test ourselves against the top teams in the country. We don't have any home races on the Schuylkill this year. I think partially because we don't have a boathouse there, partially because we're trying to seek out new competition and see where we stack up against the top NCAA teams. So we're not expecting to go in every weekend and come out in first place. It's just to see how much we can close that gap and be close to them. So I think it's going to be really challenging to keep spirits up when we’re racing these top teams, but I think it'll be really good for us to just keep pushing that.”

ES: “We definitely did well last weekend, but make no mistake, we're definitely still very hungry for the rest of our season [and] we're staying pretty humble to begin [with] because we have a long road to go, we have a lot more things to accomplish. We're definitely making strides to do something [that] Penn women's rowing has never done before, or going up against other teams that we've never even seen before. I am a senior and I've never even seen a pack-full race in my life. We're going into Las Vegas soon to race the entire pack-full. Definitely a lot of firsts for everyone, and then we're definitely going to see a lot higher caliber competition than we've seen in the past as well.”

4. What are your goals and expectations for the team this season?

JK: “It's tough for this year, because obviously, we haven't had a full real racing season since 2019. This past weekend [March 27], we kind of went in with no expectations, and we're trying to keep it that way for the rest of the season, kind of just going in and giving our best to every race and applying what we've been working on and learning to practice. If we do that, we'll come away with a really successful season.”

ES: “My goal for the team, as a graduating senior, is to lead the team [to be] in a better place than [when] I came into it [and] setting it up for success for the next couple of years. Obviously, I wish I could be a part of that, but we're really taking huge, huge leaps this year. And so I'm just looking forward to [closing] the season on a super high note. Obviously, the end goal is going to the NCAA championships. That's one big event. But I also want all the tiny little events to go right as well so that we can set the team up for success beyond just this year.”

IH: “The biggest aim this year is to go to the NCAA [championships], because our team has never been there in the past. I think when I was coming to the team, as a freshman, we were kind of on the cusp of that, and we missed it my freshman year. The team has slowly been evolving to get to that point, and I think this year we're really gunning for that. That's the kind of goal that in the fall, we were set on and kind of pushed us through the cold winter indoors in the month of January/February. So it's really cool to finally be at the point where [the championships are] less than two months away. I would definitely say that that's the overarching goal, but also to place as high as possible at the Ivy League Championships.”