The leaves have begun to fall along Kelly Drive, signaling the start of rowing season in Philadelphia. All three Penn rowing teams will begin their fall campaigns at the Navy Day Regatta on October 15. The Quakers' goal in the fall is simple: prepare the best they can for the championship races in the spring.
“The fall season matters because it gives us a relative gauge of how we stack up against our competition, but it's not our championship season,” heavyweight rowing coach Al Monte said. “We're using this time to build a foundation and see where we stand. Let's figure out what work we need to do as we move into the spring; let's get the guys around other crews, see what the level is, and then try to go chase it. It's about development really, developing the skills it's going to take to go faster”.
The Navy Day Regatta has been a fall tradition for the Philadelphia rowing community since 1986. Since registration is open to virtually every school, the competition is especially known for its ability to congregate diverse teams ranging from local host St. Joseph’s University, to the United States Naval Academy.
“[The Naval Academy] is a fantastic program and serve as a good rival and a good indicator of speed for us." heavyweight senior Ben Rutherford said. "We've also made it a team focus that we want to be the fastest crew on the Schuylkill every single time we go out. There are some really strong local programs and it's important for us to claim and defend the river as our own against the competition in this upcoming regatta”.
Penn's heavyweight team is entering its second season under head coach Al Monte. Earlier in his Quaker tenure, Monte guided his crew to a first-place finish in the Men's Collegiate 8+ Final at the 2022 Navy Day Regatta.
“Last year going into this regatta, we didn't really know what to expect,” Monte said. “I think I was on the job for only a week and a half at the time and was just getting to know the guys. I put them through their paces before the regatta even started because we had very little time to get things sorted out. To their credit, they went out and performed really well and won the race for the first time since 2014. We established ourselves as the top dogs, so to speak, on the river.
"The team finished last year as the most improved crew in the country at the national championships in the spring. The Navy Day Regatta was a foundational moment that launched our season. We're trying to reestablish that and then take it to another level as we think about the end of this year."
For the women’s rowing team, the crew will be hitting the water competitively for the first time since May. The Quakers earned an impressive sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in their second-only full-team appearance in the competition.
"I think the main thing to keep in mind is that we can obviously take our positive energy from last year and use it to get through the tough training spots, but constantly looking back at what we've done is risky in that it isn't something that we can control now, and could be discouraging whilst facing novel factors that weren't accounted for before," women's rowing senior captain Simone Vorperian said. "This is different from last year. No different emphases on training philosophies, we're just looking to make practice special with how we show up for each other and take risks"
Head coach Wesley Ng welcomed former rowing captain Josie Konopka to the coaching staff this year. In the past two years, the program has grown to new heights, and Konopka’s appointment surely holds the potential to propel the Quakers even higher. There aren’t many other individuals who understand Penn crew tradition like Konopka, and her familiarity with coach Ng and associate coach Kumari Lewis should help her acclimate to this new role with ease.
Konopka was part of the Penn boat that cruised to victory in the 2022 Navy Day Regatta. The Quakers won both the collegiate eights and fours races, solidifying themselves as the fastest team on the Schuylkill.
"Navy day offers a unique opportunity to race on our home course since most of our races are out of town," women's rowing senior captain Alex Wiley said. "We love the Schuylkill and racing on the river we practice on every morning is a great way to build confidence and demonstrate our cumulative work before we export our speed to other venues."
The men’s lightweight rowing team, coached by Colin Farrell, is approaching the regatta from a slightly different situation. Last year, the team’s A boat finished second place behind Navy.
Lightweight senior Charlie Bourget, speaking to Navy's depth, points out the Midshipmen's extensive roster. The Red and Blue often use races against Navy as a measurement as to how they stack up against one of the better teams in the country. The team also hopes the regatta serves as valuable experience to the fresh faces on the squad.
The Navy Day Regatta, as well as the other upcoming fall races, are head races. These time-trail competitions pose different challenges to rowers when compared to sprints.
“Head racing in the fall involves a longer distance; the race is almost three miles long.” Farrell said. “A lot of our competitors’ home courses don't host head racing because you have to have the right setup for it. It's definitely nice to have that here in Philadelphia and we feel like we can get a win on our home course because of how familiar we are with it. One of the fun things about this time of year is that we really don't know that much about the competition. We can't really make any assumptions before these early races and just need to focus on having our best regatta to see where that puts us."
Members of the lightweight team were very busy over the summer and are entering the season with strong fitness levels. Junior Troy Riesenberger and senior Simon Dubiel rowed with the U.S. national team at the Under-23 World Rowing Championships in Bulgaria this July. Other Quakers competed domestically during their collegiate off-season.
The 2023 Navy Day Regata will run from 8:40 AM to 5:30 PM this Sunday, and the teams will gather at Gillin Boathouse. Following this event, Penn rowing will prepare for a trip to Boston to compete in the Head of the Charles.