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The men's lightweight rowing team competes at the Navy Day Regatta on Oct. 16, 2022. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

At Penn, men’s rowing is a deeply rooted tradition. Each year, there is an expectation for the Quakers to compete and win on the highest collegiate level. This season is no different.

The last time both the men’s heavyweight and lightweight teams formally raced was this past fall on Nov. 6 at the Princeton Chase. Overall, that outing was prosperous for both squads. The men’s heavyweight rowers, coached by Al Monte, had boats that overperformed their projected finish placements in both eights and fours competitions. Similarly, the lightweight men’s boats, under the guidance of coach Colin Farrell, also had a strong outing. Penn’s A-boat finished third out of 17 teams in the lightweight morning races, trailing only Princeton and Navy.

Despite the large gap between the fall and spring seasons, there are virtually no breaks from hard work for the Quakers during the winter.

“From the outside looking in, it seems like there is a lot of time to rest and reset,” Monte said. “We like to look at it as one continuous year. We're training during the winter time to prepare for the spring, so it really feels like one season from August to June. In the wintertime, we go to a training camp in Florida. We were there for eight days of training in January, which was great. We also train indoors with ergs, water tanks, and weights. Everything happens quite fast, even though it seems we have a long break."

When the weather makes rowing conditions impractical, the teams train in the Hutchinson Gym, where much of their specialized rowing equipment is located. However, more often than not, the Quakers are at the iconic Boathouse Row along Kelly Drive. The newly renovated Burk-Bergman Boathouse functions as a training center and a common space for Penn rowers to spend time in. 

“The boathouse renovation was a big $14 million project for us, and this is the first full year that we've been in the new space,” Farrell said. “Getting to have an independent place like [this] boathouse is a daily reminder of the privilege that it is to be part of this team. I definitely think it's a huge team and community builder for us. It's really the home base of operations for all three Penn crews, and it gives us a depot to launch out of it and work from."

Building team chemistry is an essential part of the sport of rowing. In preparation for the spring season, members of Penn men’s rowing have been working on their communication and teamwork by building bonds with each other. 

“Rowing is, in my opinion, one of the ultimate team-oriented sports that you can play. It's super important to be able to trust your teammates and work together,” lightweight junior rower Quinn Sullivan said. “What it comes down to is trying to create a community that everybody can be a part of. Everybody on our team moves in packs to go places like the dining hall, for example. On the weekends we're all hanging out together. There's constant communication between everyone in the team, and there isn’t a big sense of social hierarchy. Everybody's definitely on a very level playing field. We had a couple of new guys come in at the beginning of this semester, and right away, nobody needed to be told to include them or make them feel welcome. It was super automatic. Because if you're joining this team, you're immediately part of the picture."

The lightweight team will open its season at the national collegiate lightweight invitational in Princeton, N.J. on April 1. Following that competition, the Quakers will row in many cup races against one or two top Ivy League crew teams at a time. Both the Matthews Trophy, on April 8, and the Wood-Hammon Trophy races, on April 22, will take place on the Schuylkill River. Penn will face Harvard and Cornell in the Matthews Cup, and Princeton and Georgetown in the Wood-Hammon Trophy races. The season will culminate in the first week of June at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships.

“We're not shy to talk about wanting to win,” Farrell said. “We feel like we can be the best crew in the league and in the country. But I definitely think we also talk a lot internally about just getting better and feeling like we can drive improvement every day and every week. Because really, the goal along the way is to feel like we've asked highly of ourselves and have gotten as much out of our team as possible. There's an external drive to win, but then there's also an internal component motivating us to find out how good we can be."

The heavyweight team will go head-to-head against Northeastern at the Burk Cup in Princeton, N.J. on March 26. The months of April and May will see Penn take on many teams from the Ancient Eight. On the weekend of April 28, the Quakers will host Cornell, Oregon State, and Holy Cross in back-to-back race days on the Schuylkill River. After the EARC Sprints on May 14, the heavyweight team will race in the IRA National Championships alongside the other Penn crews. 

“We've set some team goals in terms of performance and standings based on what we’re trying to do,” Monte said. “The resounding theme has been wanting to go out and have our best performances when it matters most. We want to feel like we left it on the racecourse. We want to make sure that we're having our best performances at the Ivy League Championship and the National Championship. I think our singular focus is leaving it all out there and placing as high as we can. We can use our regular season races against Harvard, Yale, Princeton, to really try to hone our skills so that we can make sure that we are well-prepared to perform in the championships."

Both Penn men’s rowing teams are heavily focused on improving from their previous performances and building toward the end-of-season championship races. With a legacy of success, experienced coaching, and an inclination toward teamwork, the Quakers hope to grow and achieve their ambitious goals this spring.