As the eight-person sweep propelled its way down the racecourse at the Henley Women’s Regatta at Henley-on-Thames, England, the Andover Girls Crew boat maintained a three-seat lead against National Cathedral School from Washington, D.C. In the last 500 meters of the race, however, National Cathedral School closed the gap, concluding the semifinal race with a perfect tie.
Due to the traditionality of the regatta, the committee did not employ the use of photo finish technology, resulting in both crews having to race again only 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first race. The eight was coxswained by Emelie Eldracher ’18 and crewed by Olivia Brokaw ’18 in the stroke seat, Janneke Evans ’18, Claire Brady ’20, Emily Qian ’19, Molly Katarincic ’18, former Co-Captain Lila Brady ’18, Eliza Scheer ’20, and former Co-Captain Sofie Brown ’18 in the first seat.
“We had about three seats up on them the majority of the way down the course, and then in the last 500 meters of the race they came back to pretty much even with us, and we stayed even through the finish line,” said Katarincic. “Then, because of the rule that you can’t use photo finish, the announcers told us… we would have to race again in a half an hour, and so we rowed hard back into the dock… and got right back in and then pulled back up to the starting line to race again. This time they held us out about two seats for the majority of the race and then eventually took a few more seats around the finish line.”
Qian added, “The most challenging part of the regatta was definitely when we made it to the semifinals… Just getting over that first race was really hard because everyone rowed their hearts out on the course, and just to have to do it again was really hard.”
“I think initially we were all sort of shocked and frustrated, and then quickly… my mind [changed] to, ‘Okay, the other boat, or competitor, is probably also really frustrated, and this is going to be the second race for both of us, so I’m going to commit right now to doing better and to be more optimistic about it and more excited about it and embracing the challenge, and my boat is going to do that better than other boats,’ ” said Lila Brady.
Claire Brady added, “In our bracket at Henley for the eight, there were actually a lot of really strong American teams who had come over to race. In the quarterfinals, we raced against a local team, and in the semifinals we raced a boat from the U.S.”
The team also sent a developmental four-person boat crewed by Ora Cullen ’19, Ina Li ’19, Elaine Irvin ’19, and Isabel Mikheev ’20 and coxswained by Sofia Garcia ’21. The four made it past the qualifying round but faltered and lost their first race. The opposing team went on to win the entire division.
Cullen said, “We were coxswained so our coxswain could get the experience. We decided to be in a four as opposed to a quad, which is one oar instead of two. So [we were] sweeping instead of sculling, because that was what we were used to doing, and it was already different enough to be in a four and not in an eight.”
The structure of the Henley was also unfamiliar to the team. It differed from the heat-based structure followed by most American regattas, instead requiring all teams to make a qualifying time. The remainder of the regatta was structured as a bracket in which teams raced head-to-head to continue to the following rounds of competition.
Cullen said, “I think the most exciting part was when we all arrived on the course for the first time. The regatta… like Neiras, [was] about six boats across. [Typically,] you race in a heat, and if you win your heat, you move on to finals. The season is really important especially in determining rankings and how your heats are going to be structured. It’s kind of like if you work hard enough by the end of the season, you can make it through, even if you’ve suffered defeat. At Henley it is head-on, so there’s two boats, and it is direct elimination.”
In addition to organizational differences in the regatta’s structure, the team also faced a higher level of competition at Henley than they were used to, according to Li.
Li said, “Racing at Henley was definitely very humbling because European rowers are really really good compared to U.S. rowers.”
Claire Brady added, “The regatta was really unique because there were a lot of teams there competing in different races, and it was really cool to be around and watch very strong and high-level crews rowing in a lot of different races.”
In order to prepare for the regatta, the team stayed in Andover for two weeks after the end of the school year to train with daily double sessions. In the week leading up to the regatta, the team traveled to England and trained at Headington School, an all-girls school outside of London.
Lila Brady said, “The morning practice would always be a couple sets of longer pieces. Those were different every day, and the coaches had a specific training schedule that would tell them how many sets and pieces. The afternoon was mostly focused on technical rowing, which I think is a really cool opportunity, because when you’re rowing at Andover during the season, you sort of have to give up a day of a fitness workout if you want to do technical rowing.”
Lila Brady continued, “In the afternoon it was a much more mental focus practice… We would see such enormous differences in our rowing when everyone in the boat was just putting their mind onto one aspect… And when everyone was focused on doing that one thing together, the boat would move in a completely different way. It was really cool to see how… such small, little adjustments [make such a difference].”
Qian added, “We had a goal that we were trying to reach, and that was the times of the winners of Henley in the past years. Every day we were pushing to reach that goal and go faster.”