By Paul Lonardo
At Bryant University, there are twenty-two varsity sports which compete at the D1 level, and thirteen “club sports,” which includes Women’s Rowing. Club sports are comparable to high school sports, according to Nicholas Schleicher, director of the school’s recreation programs.
Rowing, often referred to as “crew” here in the United States, is a sport whose origins date back to Ancient Egypt. Modern rowing as a competitive sport can be traced to the early 10th century when races were held between professional watermen on the River Thames in London. Amateur competition began towards the end of the 18th century with the arrival of “boat clubs” in British public and private schools. A short while later the sport came to America, and the Narraganset Boat Club, right here in Rhode Island, was established. Still in existence today, it is the oldest continuously active boat club in the country, 180 years and counting.
The Women’s Rowing team at Bryant continues this long tradition by participating in what is considered by many to be the ultimate team sport. By pushing against the water with an oar, rowers generate a force that propels the boat forward. They row as fast and efficiently as they can, maximizing speed and power by matching strokes and timing in a graceful, synchronous movement. Every stroke of the oar affects the speed of the boat, so if it does well in a race, everyone shares in the success. And no matter how powerful or accomplished one rower may be, each rower is only as good as the other rowers in the boat. There are no superstars in crew. It is all about the team.
It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to compete in the sport, but you will likely not find these student athletes training for their club sport. You have to get up very early, around 5 a.m., to catch them on the waters of the Woonasquatucket Reservoir, commonly known as Stump Pond, in the spring and fall.
Races are called regattas, and there are a number of different boat classes in which a team can compete. On the row team this year at Bryant, there are nineteen women who participate on an eight-person boat, which has an additional coxswain (the person who steers and navigates the boat), as well as a four-person boat with a coxswain.
“The teams are broken down into two groupings,” Schleicher explains. “There is Varsity Crew and Novice Crew, which consists of anyone who is brand new to the program. It’s equivalent to a high school JV program, while our Varsity is the team that consists of rowers who have been on the team longer and have more experience.”
There are not many high schools that have rowing programs, so most of the freshman and sophomore entering the university have never experienced rowing on any level, but may want to try it. Which is exactly how the Women’s Rowing program began at Bryant.
In the spring of 2010, Nicola Dechamps was an incoming freshman from Avon, CT when she entered Bryant with an interest in rowing. The school did not have a rowing program at that time, however. Then, fatefully, one afternoon while attending an event on campus with her dad, they were joined by University President Ronald K. Machtley, who asked Dechamps what activities she would like to participate in at the school. When Dechamps explained that she rowed in high school after starting a crew team, Machtley encouraged her to do the same at Bryant. He pledged his total support for the program, and Dechamps took Machtley up on his offer.
Through the generous financial support of alumni supporters Elizabeth and Malcolm Chace, three boats, two “eights” and a “four” were purchased. Accomplished master rower, George Shuster, offered to help train the team, covering basic form, body positioning, and developed a training plan. Rowing machines were purchased for training while Dechamps began reaching out to classmates and upperclassmen to join the team. Finally, the Student Senate recognized the team as an official Bryant Club Sport. The Women’s Rowing team officially started competing in 2011.
“The program has only been around for eight years,” Schleicher says, “but it feels like it’s been a lot longer than that because of the success we’ve had in that short time, and putting the name of Bryant University out there in big-time national competitions like The Head of the Charles Regatta and the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, in Philadelphia. It’s a pretty big feat from where we started.”
The Head Coach of Bryant’s Women’s Rowing team is Brent Basso, who at the same time teaches science and coaches rowing at St Mary’s Bay View Academy in Pawtucket. He is also a rowing coach at the historic Narragansett Boat Club. The team’s Novice Coach, Jackson Krupnick, has a strong rowing background, as well. Krupnick was on the Men’s Rowing team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
“Rowing is a great program for a student-athlete who looking for something to do in school and wants to keep up that competitive edge,” Schleicher says. “It’s the perfect outlet.”
For more information, on joining the women’s Rowing Team, or any other club sport at Bryant University, contact Nick Schleicher at (401) 232-6822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.