Enthusiastic turnout has Mac crew steadily rowing along

By Daniel Kerwin

Watching teams of boats gliding along the Mississippi River is one of the most pristine sights to be had in the Twin Cities. At this past weekend’s North Star Challenge the Macalester Crew team got the opposite side of the story, with the rowers testing their physical limits in order to push their boats upstream in as quick a time as possible. From their point of view the situation can sometimes feel more like being on the high seas.To outsiders, crew might seem like a peculiar endeavor, but that didn’t stop a large number of Macalester students trying it out for the first time this semester. This season the crew team consisted of 17 varsity rowers and a whopping 18 novices stuck with it throughout the season.

“Usually we lose quite a few of our novice recruits at this point by attrition, but we’ve had a lot who’ve stuck around,” Emir Berganovic ’09 said. “They’re a great group; they’re very athletic and very enthusiastic.”

This level of participation is a sharp contrast to what seniors such as Berganovic encountered when they were freshmen.

“When we started as freshmen they moved us up to varsity after only two weeks,” Berganovic said.

Although the sport may seem simple, with the rowers rowing and the coxswains steering and directing the rowers, the veterans can attest that it’s not as simple as it looks.

“There was an issue our freshman year, we got blown off course and the University of Iowa got blown even more off course and ran into us,” Bobby Painter ’09 said. “But they got penalized, not us.”

“It’s definitely more mentally intensive than you think,” Emily Heckel ’10 said. “You have to pay attention to what everyone else is doing.”

Besides the obvious need to become oriented to life on the water, the new rowers have had to learn some of the quirkier aspects of crew, such as the nix on wearing black socks while rowing, or the advantages and disadvantages of wearing tight neon pants, or the apparent benefits of “the drank,” a Lance Armstrong sponsored sports drink of which Painter says “I don’t know if it actually does something, but we pretend it does.”

Now at the end of their first season, the new recruits seem to have caught on.

“We’ve progressed from knowing nothing to doing pretty well,” Jackie Hoong ’12 said.

“It’s a cool feeling to all be coming together at the same time,” Tema Johnson ’11 added.

Not only did the novice team come together, they were also a competitive force in their races. For example, in the North Star Challenge the novice women’s eight placed 2nd out of 5 boats in their race. Macalester also had second place finishes for the women’s varsity four and the varsity mixed eight.

Looking back to the beginning of the season, it wasn’t clear that the team would even have coaches, let alone an army of novice rowers. In the end Associate Athletic Director Vanessa Seljeskog and former head coach Jerritt Johnston were able to utilize contacts at the Minneapolis Rowing Club and recruit a head coach, Janet LaMere, and two novice coaches, Sue Michals and Ann Schley.

“It’s not unusual for alums to come back and coach the novices, we’ve had that in the past, but it’s not as professional as what we have this year,” Berganovic said.

Besides taking part in two races in the Twin Cities along the Mississippi this season, the team also raced in Des Moines, Iowa, and in Rockford, Ill., the biggest race in the Midwest during the fall. In the spring there is talk of going on a spring break trip and also trying to go to the Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia.

Of course operative word in these plans is ‘spring.’ Rowing doesn’t work too well on a river covered in ice.