In the mid-1980s, a new club sport was introduced at Franklin & Marshall College: crew. Just five years ago, rowing became a varsity-level program, making it the youngest official sport here on campus.
The men’s and women’s rowing teams, notorious for their grueling 5 a.m. practices may very well be the least credited teams on campus. Besides waking up for sunrise work- outs several times a week, the men’s rowing team has one of the toughest schedules of any team here at F&M. Since the NCAA does not govern men’s collegiate rowing, the male Diplomats have their hands full, facing much larger, better-funded crews such as Villanova, Virginia and Delaware Universities. The women’s team also holds its own, competing at the D-III level, and consistently earning themselves a top-three finish in the Mid-Atlantic Rowing Conference.
This year, Robert Weber, head coach of both the men’s and women’s team, and the rowers of the men’s team have experimented with a rather unconventional method for success and motivation. Most teams focus on strengthening their eight-man varsity boat, but the short-handed Diplomats have formulated a four-man varsity boat — one that can compete with, and even emerge victorious against, powerhouse teams such as Temple, La Salle, and other universities previously mentioned. But the varsity four has done much more than just represent F&M as a competitor at large-scale meets — it has served as the first step in the long-term success of the rowing program here in Lancaster. It has set a standard, and created competition, motivation, and a goal for every athlete on the team to strive towards.
F&M is aware of the fact that most teams prioritize their eight-man boats, taking into account that they will be up against the best every team has to offer.
The foundation of the eight-boat is grounded in Ben Weiserbs ’14, who offers his thoughts on what it’s like to be an underdog.
“It’s hard when you have dedication in the boat, but you don’t have experience, and that’s the case in our boat,” Weiserbs said. “We’re racing against teams that have been rowing their whole lives. That’s just part of rowing though; it’s about mental focus, and you just have to keep trying. Not only is it physically demanding, but it’s also difficult mentally.”
Someone who knows a thing or two about mental toughness in rowing is the coxswain. Rowing may be the only sport where a female can legally be part of the men’s team, and not just any ordinary woman has the mental ability to work successfully with the big boys.
Amanda Levit ’15 is a female amongst a boat of men, and it is her job to keep them in line and ensure that everyone is performing their respective duties.
“When I was in high school, I considered being on the men’s team,” Levit recalled. “My coach told me that I had to be tough with them,and be a bit of a jerk if I wanted to succeed in the men’s boat; that was the best advice I was ever given. Most of the time, I can keep up with their shenanigans, and a big part of it is just leaving the girl behind on the dock, and as soon as you get on that boat you adopt the role of a coxswain. When you put on that role, you also get to reap the benefits of getting to know them, and almost feeling what it’s like to be a guy.”
This year, the pinnacle of the rowing program lies in the varsity four, which consists of one rower from every class year, led by veterans Clement Hsu ’12 and David Kaess ’13, who have teamed up with Connor Ten Cate ’14 and Wade Stanley ’15 to form an immensely successful quartet of oarsmen.
“We created a varsity four to spur the program’s development and to make people work harder,” said Weber. “The four is part of the team’s development, and hopefully in a few years, we will be able have enough guys for a varsity eight.”
As a senior and the team leader, Hsu feels a great deal of pressure to make this season one to remember.
“I feel like I have to find a certain rhythm in the boat and to do what I can to make it go as fast as possible,” Hsu said. “There’s a certain urgency on my part, and I know that the Dad Vail Regatta will be my last chance to race in college, and I want to make it the best I can.”
Next year, Kaess will take over as team captain, and is very positive about the team’s future.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction, and this is proving to be one of our better seasons for both the men and women,” Kaess said. “People that do really well in this sport are the ones who put in the time and effort. A lot of what this sport is revolves around how much you’re willing to commit to the cause, and how much you’re willing to give to the team.”
After going abroad to Germany in the fall, Ten Cate was able to pick up where he left off last year and earn himself a spot on the varsity four.
“Coming back was pretty difficult,” Ten Cate said. “When I was in Germany I was just wondering how I was going to get back in shape. I didn’t get a chance to row when I was there, but I tried to stay in shape by running, and if I ever needed any motivation I called Clement. I thought about how hard it would be to come back, and I thought I’d have to get lucky to make it into the fast boat, but as soon as I got back, I put in a lot of work and it paid off.”
Stanley, one of Weber’s top recruits, has performed above and beyond expectations for the Dips. Stanley has a great deal of respect for his rowing counterparts, and has enjoyed the experience of being in the varsity boat.
“It’s been an honor to be in this boat coming into a new program,” Stanley said. “Over the summer when I was training, I was just hoping to get into any boat, but now I have this opportunity to race in the fastest boat in the program with a group of really nice guys.”
Though the men’s team is only losing three rowers to graduation, everyone will need to remain motivated. Weber sees a lot of potential in the underclassmen, and is looking forward to welcoming his new class of recruits. Current first-years Davis Narwold, Tim Smith, and Sam Alter have a lot of raw potential, and will be crucial to the development and success of the team in years to come. High expectations have already been pegged on Jeremy Hsu ’15, who has big shoes to fill as his brother bids farewell to the Dips. Jeremy recently rowed a personal best on the erg in the 2k, hitting an impressive 6:48, and his timing could not have been better, as F&M nears the focal point of their season.
On the whole this year, Weber is extremely pleased with the effort, and is patiently waiting for his team’s hard work to pay off.
“I always tell the athletes to just prove themselves,” said Weber. “Just prove yourself, and your effort, and the results will follow.”
As the season winds down, the Dips are expecting to attend the world-renowned Dad Vail Regatta May 11. It will be F&M’s first appearance in school history, and will likely be one to remember.
Questions? Email Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.