Penn rowing traveled to Princeton, N.J. on Sunday for a rivalry regatta to end the 2023 fall season. Against a backdrop of picture-perfect skies and still-changing fall foliage, the Quakers secured second-place finishes in the Men’s Heavyweight 8+ and Women’s Open 8+ races of the Princeton Chase. The Red and Blue managed to net these podium finishes despite a crowded field that included 38 boats for the men and 57 boats for the women.
Penn’s performance followed a year of growth for the men's team. After earning the Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s Most Improved Crew award for the 2023 spring season, the Quakers continued to impress with strong results at this year’s Navy Day, Head of the Schuylkill, and Head of the Charles regattas.
The Navy Day Regatta, Penn rowing's first competition of the year, saw the men’s crew walk away with first-place finishes in both the Heavyweight Collegiate Eights and the Lightweight Open Eights. Meanwhile, at the Head of the Schuylkill, the Quakers placed first in the Freshmen Coxed Four, the Championship Four, and the Club Championship Eight, while securing a second-place finish in the Championship Eights and fourth in the Freshman/Novice Eights.
However, the highlight of the season came at this year’s Head of the Charles, the world’s largest and most important three-day rowing event. Penn returned from Boston with the coveted MacMahon Cup Points Trophy, a feat made possible by the Quakers’ 10th-place finish in the Charles’ Men’s Championship Eights. The Championship Eights brings together the most competitive teams from around the world, including the United States National Team. It is widely viewed as a bellwether for measuring the depth and quality of a rowing program, so this year’s nine-spot improvement over the Quakers’ 20th-place finish in 2022 signifies remarkable year-over-year improvement.
“I’ve raced Head of the Charles — this was my fourth time now," heavyweight sophomore Cole Riedinger said. "I’ve never had a better piece.”
Senior heavyweight coxswain Sophie Borenstein agreed, calling the 10th-place result the program's best performance in decades.
The crew's finish in the Men's Championship Eights also speaks to the adversity and grit of the team. Heavyweight sophomore Tommy Schrieber said that at the last minute, “our Championship Eight stroke man — one of the most important athletes in the boat, who sets the rhythm — was out with sickness. The biggest story that most teams don’t know about us [is] that we still performed well after bouncing back from one of our top guys not being able to race.”
Looking forward, members of Penn men’s rowing are boasting an optimistic attitude for what the future has in store. Heavyweight senior Colin Rosser noted that with just five members of the heavyweight crew graduating in the spring, the team has the opportunity to capitalize on a younger demographic of rowers who will look to keep the momentum going.
“We’ve got a great group of freshmen and sophomores,” Rosser said. “Based on this year’s results [as a whole] — the best in a long time, as far as I know — and the youth of our team, Penn is only going to keep getting faster.”
Program depth in the form of a broader athlete class will hopefully push the needle on Penn’s top-ranked boats. Riedinger notes that it’s not just the top eight athletes who count, but the entire program.
“One thing that we talk about is every man counts," Riedinger said. "The fourth varsity’s speed really determines how fast the varsity will be on any given day. The fourth varsity pushes the three, the three pushes the two, two pushes the one.”
In the spirit of building a program with athlete depth, Riedinger and Schrieber both emphasized walk-on culture, relaying how unrecruited athletes joining the team bolsters the type of boat-on-boat motivation that pushes faster race times.
Ultimately, Penn men's rowing's bright future should make the spring season even more interesting, as the Quakers look to field an even faster crew. Look for a team coming out of winter with renewed vigor and energy. As articulated by heavyweight sophomore Lars Finlayson, “the winter is when times are made. You get faster in the winter season.”