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Penn women's rowing competing at the Doc Hosea Invitational on March 27, 2022. Credit: Borna Saeednia

Penn women’s full rowing team competed at the NCAA rowing championships for the first time in school history this month, placing 11th overall out of 22 teams — just shy of the program’s goal of earning a top 10 title this season.

The regatta took place from May 27-29 at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Fla., where each of Penn’s three boats raced four times on the 2,000-meter course. The team placed ninth in the varsity eight, 11th in the second varsity eight, and 17th in the fours event over three days of racing. Opposition included season rivals from the University of Virginia, Oregon State University, and the University of California, Berkeley, among other crews.

Penn received a bid to compete at the championship regatta based on its performance over the spring season. Coach Wesley Ng said he spent the summer of 2021 strategically scheduling races that would give the team the best chance to receive the NCAA bid. 

“You really have to wage an entire campaign to earn an NCAA bid,” Ng told The Daily Pennsylvanian. Key races over the spring season included the Pac-12 Invitational in Las Vegas and the Lake Wheeler Invitational in North Carolina.

“Getting ahead of those crews while out there was very, very helpful to demonstrating our team speed,” he said.

Penn entered the NCAA Championship vying for a top 10 spot among the country’s fastest crews, with its top two boats seeded ninth and sixth in their heats. The athletes had performed well over the spring season and were excited for the chance to line up against historically successful teams, said College junior and co-captain Josie Konopka.

“Being in Florida at the national championships with the fastest teams in the country is something that you don’t get to experience many times in your life,” Konopka said. Konopka stroked Penn’s varsity eight, which placed third in the petite final and ninth overall.

Although only 20 rowers and three coxswains — as well as three spares — were able to represent Penn in the NCAA Championship, Ng expressed that the success of the program would not have been possible without the commitment from every athlete over the full season.

Wharton senior and co-captain Emily Strambi told the DP that she noticed a shift in team culture over the past year that pushed the program to find success at the national level. Every athlete was fully committed to getting Penn to the championship in May.

“We said, ‘We are going to NCAAs, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get there,’” Strambi said. “And we just never went back on that word.”

Strambi sat in two-seat of the second varsity eight and said that she believes qualifying for the championship regatta this year set a powerful precedent for years to come. 

“Having the experience of having gone before I think is going to be such a huge advantage,” she said. “We were the only team that had never been there before, and we came in 11th.”

With a talented recruiting class incoming and almost all current athletes returning to train in the fall, Strambi is confident that the Quakers can become familiar faces at the NCAA Championships in 2023.