“Remember, remember, the 31st of October”—so the women’s crew team will (probably) be chanting all winter long after a memorable day at the Head of the Fish Regatta in Saratoga Springs, NY. Described by the rowers as the funkiest, spookiest race of the season, this year’s Fish, as it’s known, went down on an unseasonably beautiful late fall day.
“It was probably the nicest day we’ve ever had at the Head of the Fish,” said Emma Buford ’16, who raced in the 1v. “It snowed one year, there were ocean-like waves one year, and this year it ended up being the best conditions we’ve had for a race all year. We were expecting it to be bad so it was a huge bonus that it was nice.”
“It was a ‘see how fast you can go’ kind of day,” added Captain Remy Johnson ’16, who also competed for the 1v.
Halloween costumes abounded, and not just for spectators. One crew, apparently, sported matching Santa and reindeer costumes; what’s more, the winners of each race received plaques with decorated fish heads as their centerpieces, stuffed by a local taxidermist. Much of the Northeast was represented at this slightly offbeat race, which, at 3.2 kilometers, is much shorter than other “Heads” in which our crews have competed this fall.
“The Fish is more fun, in a way,” said Captain Annie Dade ’16, who competed in the 1v. “The shortness of the race means there’s an opportunity to sprint more, which reminds you of the coming spring season. So it’s a nice way to end the fall season and a little taste of what’s coming in the spring.”
The women raced five crews, a 1v, 2v, 3v, a novice four, and a freshman eight. All boats finished well and will take major positives from this race to winter training and the looming spring season.
The star of the show, though, was surely Wesleyan’s second varsity boat, which won its race and came home with a fish head plaque in tow. The boat started in second and finished in 12:12.24, bettering second place finishers Williams (who started in first position) by over seven seconds.
Annalee Holmdahl ’17 was one of the winners, and she elaborated on the fantastic result, and how the dream team came together.
“It felt really good [to take the gold],” she said. “We just kind of got thrown into that boat I guess two days before the race. I’d been in that boat in a lot of different configurations but we had the same coxswain the whole time, and I like to think that she made a huge difference.”
The coxswain, Jill Moraski ’16 indeed played a vital role in the victory, and Holmdahl gushed with praise about her teammate.
“After the race I told her, ‘Jill, you won us that race’ and of course she’s like ‘no way,’” Holmdahl said. “But just the way she coxed it really did give us the advantage. We started in second and Williams was in front of us, and it’s tough when you’re racing because you can’t see who’s in front of you. Everything is based on what she’s telling you, and while we were racing she just kept telling us to ‘get us some purple’ and gain on the Williams boat. Also, coxing off only one boat that you’re not close to is really hard, mentally.”
The time trial format of the fall races meant that even once the 2v had finished their race, they couldn’t be sure that they’d won. However, they did feel that they’d put together something special, especially knowing that they’d started with five lengths separating their boat from Williams and finished just one length behind.
“I knew that it was the best racing our 2v had done this season,” Holmdahl said.
The 1v finished its race in third, with a final time of 11:54.08. Under one second out of silver (taken by Rochester Institute of Technology), the first varsity left the Fish proud of a bronze medal finish.
Though undoubtedly delighted with their finish, Dade, and Johnson, and Buford all pointed to the amazing work of everyone else on the team at the Fish.
“Our 3v also came in second of all the 3vs in the race and so that was really cool to see the depth of our team,” said Johnson.
The 3v finished 11th in the race won by the 2v, with a time of 13:26.64, behind only NESCAC powerhouse Williams’ 3v.
What’s more, the Fish, unlike the Textile and the Head of the Charles, afforded the team’s novices a chance to compete in their first collegiate races.
This feature of the Fish no doubt added to its tinge of wildness, something to which Holmdahl attested.
“It’s on Halloween, so it’s fun atmosphere, and since it’s the first race for a lot of the freshmen and the novices, it can be pretty chaotic,” she said.
Buford expanded on what it really means for novices to finally be involved in a regatta.
“There’s so much to the race that’s not even on the water, like putting the oars away, getting the boat to the dock, and listening to directions from people other than your coach like the officials of the regatta,” she said. “So there are a lot of logistical things that are outside of the race itself that people are doing for the first time, and I think it’s exciting to see these new people getting the full experience of racing at a regatta, and looking, listening, and seeing everything that goes on.”
With the fall race season now officially over, the team turns to winter training, which entails no official races and a lot of training, but the team seems to be excited.
“Winter season is really exciting,” Buford said. “We’re doing a bunch of preliminary testing to see where we are now, and then hopefully by the time march rolls around we’ll retest again and see our improvement, so it’s awesome to be able to see where you are now and then use that pace to fuel you in the winter. Using the hard numbers is always really powerful, and you can tangibly measure to push yourself in the winter.”
The coaches aren’t allowed to interact with the squad until the spring, so Captains Dade and Johnson and the rest of the upperclassmen will be running the show.
“We’ll make it fun,” said Dade. “We always do.”
Though the Old Methodist men did not capture a fish head for Wesleyan posterity, they did put on a fine, fine display at this weekend’s regatta.
The ever-strong 1v finished with a time of 10:23.23, second only to Columbia, a school with a DI rowing program that doesn’t always appear at the Saratoga Springs regatta.
While the 1v wasn’t going to settle finishing behind Columbia, they had other goals in mind.
“BC was really our big target,” Captain Chris Nanda ’16 said. “They edged us out at the Charles so a lot of the race was really predicated on beating them. And we did that, which was great.”
As for the women, the short course totally changed the dynamic for the Wesleyan rowers.
“It was a really aggressive race,” Nanda said. “It’s a really short course, under 4000 meters, and a lot of the head races we do in the fall are longer, so going into it you know it’s going to be a really short race, like 10 or 11 minutes. So we went at it very, very aggressively. In the race it felt like we were really pushing the pace, but the wheels weren’t coming off, which was ideal.”
A key player in the first boat’s success was Aviv Preminger ’19, the boat’s stroke.
“Aviv did a really good job,” Nanda said. “He’s one of our freshman phenoms on the first boat. At stroke, he sets the pace, and he did a very good job of setting a necessarily aggressive pace, and everyone else in the boat did a good job of maintaining that pace.”
In the 2v and 3v race, both Wesleyan boats finished strongly. The 3v took eighth, with a time of 11:09.48, good enough for an impressive first among all third boats.
“Obviously you can’t do much better than that,” said Nanda. “It was sort of a nice opportunity for us to see how our third boat compared against other teams’ third boats, and they won, so we’re excited about that.”
In the same race, the Cardinal 2v collected third place, with a time of 10:40.71, less than two seconds away from second place, only behind Columbia and RIT.
“All our boats were pretty happy with how they finished,” Nanda said.
Two novice boats also got out on the water for the first time at the Head of the Fish. A novice eight came in second in that category with a time of 10:51.52. Only Marist College rowed faster, and this was an exceptional result for Wesleyan’s new boys.
“They’re really, really fast,” Nanda said. “We have a lot of really talented freshmen, and they had only rowed with that crew once before. I think that if they had been in their lineup for longer and had a little more time to practice they could have done even better. But obviously second’s a great result.”
The Cards’ novice four finished in the middle of the pack in its category, rounding off a very solid final day of competition for Wesleyan rowing.
The squad now turns with the women to winter training, and Nanda has high hopes for both them and the upcoming spring season.
“We’ve got a really good winter training plan,” he said. “Also we really want to medal at ECACs, and I think that’s doable, given our plans for this winter.”