After clinching first place at the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association Championships (NEIRAs) in May, Andover Girls Crew received an invitation to the prestigious Henley Women’s Regatta for the first time since 2007. Held on the Thames River in England, the Regatta pitted some of the world’s top teams against each other, and Andover sent an eight- and a four-man boat to compete.
Both Andover boats advanced to the semifinals, where the eight-man boat, consisting of G1 rowers, fell to the Headington School. Andover’s four-man boat did not race due to an injury to one of the rowers. Headington went on to win the Regatta.
Coxed by Janet Conklin ’17, the eight-man boat was composed of Julia Marcus ’15, Cara Cavanaugh ’15, Co-Captain QiQi Ren ’15, Isabella Berkley ’15, Lane Unsworth ’15, Charlotte Chazen ’15, Vienna Kuhn ’16 and Sam Hawley ’16.
Grace Hannam ’17 coxed the four boat, which consisted of rowers Evelyn Mesler ’17, Liz Irvin ’17, Sofie Brown ’18 and Lila Brady ’18.
The Regatta featured a bracket style competition, pitting boats against each other in one-on-one races.
Unsworth said, “It was really exciting to go up against international crews, and the one-on-one races put a lot of pressure on each race because it meant you would either win or go home.”
Because of its victory at NEIRAs, Andover received a bye in the first round of races. Then, on its first day out on the water, Andover’s eight-man boat topped the London-based Lady Eleanor Holles School by three lengths, but fell to Headington the next day by ten seconds.
Cavanaugh said, “[After winning] the first race with a good amount of open water, we were then paired in the semifinals with [Headington], the best crew in England. We knew they would have a strong start so we were planning on matching their speed after the start and making a few moves on them to close the gap. In the actual race they did get off to a good start as we predicted, but we weren’t able to walk back up on them.”
Inspired by the success of the Andover eight, the four boat defeated the Godolphin School of Wiltshire, England, by a deck in its preliminary race, and stood as the only American boat racing in the semifinals. It was after its victory over Godolphin that Andover had to forfeit in the semifinals due to injury.
The Henley Women’s Regatta was first established in 1988 as a counterpart to the exclusively-male Henley Royal Regatta, and has consistently attracted elite crew teams from around the world. The Regatta is held in the town of Henley-on-Thames, England.
To prepare for the event, Andover returned to the water on the Wednesday following its victory at NEIRAs, which marked the end of its season. In order to prepare for the Regatta, Andover maintained a rigorous practice schedule that carried on through Extended Period Week and into the first weeks of summer. Andover began training in England a week after Commencement exercises.
Hannam said, “Training never stopped. As soon as NEIRAs had ended, and we had decided to go to Henley, we were back on the water in Andover the next day. We trained all through Extended Period Week, working around our schedules, which meant some really late practices. Then we all stayed after finals for another week in Andover before flying to England just under ten days before the Women’s Regatta.”
Once in England, the team adopted an intense daily schedule that entailed grueling physical training and mental endurance.
Brady said, “We would wake up nice and early every morning at 5:30 a.m. to get a hard workout on the water in before the river got too busy, and then we would practice again in the afternoon focusing more on technique.”
Despite the demanding agenda, the girls embraced the challenge and viewed the long hours as an opportunity to grow closer as a team both on and off the water.
Brady continued, “The bond all of the girls formed was something really special. I got to spend time with some really great people, and the whole team got so much closer in just those couple weeks of training and traveling together. Rowing is such a team sport, and living with the team helped my boat row so much better because we got along so well.”
Mesler said, “I was incredibly proud of our performance. The amount of work each rower devoted to Henley paid off, and I believe we exceeded the program’s expectations.”
On July 1, Andover Boys Crew will look to improve upon the success of Girls Crew in the Henley Royal Regatta.
Correction: July 1, 2015
A previous version of this article misstated the title of the regatta, as well as the first name of one of Andover’s rowers. It is the Henley Women’s Regatta, not Henley Royal Women’s Regatta, and it is Sofie Brown, not Sophie Brown.