Blazers on the crew team prepare for their spring season
On Mondays, wandering through the Blair hallways, you can hear a faint roar, growing in volume as you approach the 130s hallway. It’s Blair’s men’s crew team, practicing on ergs (rowing machines) and preparing for their spring season. They’re in that hallway all week, practicing along with the women’s team. They’re preparing for their spring season, during which they will race six times in rivers and lakes across the East Coast.
Unlike most sports, where teams meet only for a short season, crew practices all year. The spring season differs from the fall in that there is much more of an emphasis on speed. Perrin Salewood, the men’s varsity team and head coach, compares the differences in rowing in the fall and spring to cross country and track, with spring being more similar to track. With the whole winter to prepare, Blazers practice tirelessly to get their race times shorter and shorter.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday the men’s team is in the hallways on the ergs, focusing on high intensity interval training. They’re there from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. Tuesday and Thursday are more so rest days, just an hour of low intensity workouts.
The women’s team training is similar. During the winter they’re running laps or stairs, erging or even working out in the newly available weight room on Fridays. Generally, when they get on the machines, they will split up into two groups: the top eight, made up of the fastest rowers, and the second eight. A recent addition to the practice routine is concluding with meditations, helping the athletes unwind after a long and often stressful day.
Since the pandemic, Blair Crew has gone through many personnel shifts and attitude changes. In fact, one of the most pressing challenges they’ve faced is changing the culture of Blair Crew.
Before women’s team captain Gabriella Maitra joined the team, the team didn’t really take things seriously. It wasn’t competitive, and many people just joined for the opportunity to get out on the water. When varsity women’s coach Colin Silvers joined the team in 2020, things started to change. While he was coaching the novice group, the team started to approach things differently. “I think he instilled a completely different mindset in them. This isn’t just for recreation. You are here to get good and win,” Maitra says.
After that shift, the team is now focused on becoming formidable competitors. “It was just about turning the team around and implementing habits and norms that make a team go fast, things that fast teams do that are just normal, but didn’t used to be normal [for us],” Maitra says. Jordan Croll, the women’s novice team and head coach, found it was a bit of a rough adjustment for the team at first, but since then Blair Crew is taking things more seriously than they ever have before. “Getting people acclimated to working hard and coming everyday has been a challenge, but I think everyone has responded to that push really well,” Croll says.
Crew is a serious sport to commit to, especially with the travel and money necessary to practice and compete. It's a club sport, so they don't receive any money from the county, and students and parents have to work together to raise funds for kids to compete. In addition, it’s difficult getting kids to and from the boathouse, and sometimes parents struggle with the time commitment. “Parents are a big challenge in that way. It’s a big time commitment. They don’t want their kids to do all that and they don’t share the same mindset that the rowers might,” Maitra says.
However, the rowers are getting serious and since then, many have reaped the rewards. There are several rowers who are planning on rowing in college at very prestigious schools, which is something they never expected before. “Another symbol of how the team has changed is that nobody ever got recruited. If you were going to row in college, you were going to be walking on to a D3 team. Now we have multiple people talking to some of the best teams in the country,” Maitra says.
When they competed at Mid Atlantic Erg Sprints on Feb. 4, many students hit personal records and several students placed higher than expected. Through their preparation for the competition, the women’s team was able to bring their 2K time down from 8:03 to 8:01, just one second off from their goal for the end of the winter.
These are impressive accomplishments, but for Blair to really reach the next level, size has become an issue.
Blair Crew is still relatively small, and in order for them to be able to compete with other, larger teams in the area, they’ll need a bigger team. They’ve grown in the past year, but there’s still room. “The varsity men’s team has essentially tripled in size since last spring. It’s been really cool. Like I was saying earlier, that’s our biggest challenge: people have more kids. Generally with rowing, when you have more kids, you’re faster, just because you have more athletes and they push each other more,” Salewood says.
To encourage more Blazers to join the team, coaches and rowers are reaching out to younger students and other athletes. Posters throughout the hallways, tables at club fairs and word of mouth are just some of the recruitment tactics Blair Crew has been using to increase their size.
Croll is talking with other Blair coaches about recruiting students who have been cut from other sports’ teams, hoping they’ll join with their newly open schedules. “[When] some of the other coaches start to make cuts here in the end of February and early March, [I’m hoping] I’ll be able to get on top of some of the kids that get cut. So if you’re like a basketball, soccer player, whatever, come on in and [crew] will give you an outlet,” Croll says.
They are always looking for new people, and emphasize the unique opportunities rowing provide to athletes. Many high school students joining a sport for the first time will find that the team is full of kids who have been playing the sport since they were little, and it’s near impossible for a novice to catch up. Crew is different, as most people don’t start rowing until high school, so it’s much easier for beginners to pick it up. In addition, rowing can open many doors, and both Croll and Salewood point out the opportunities it can provide in college. “It’s said to be the sport where [you’re] the most likely to go pro at the next level in college. If you show up and work hard, hopefully there’s a good chance we can get you rowing in college,” Croll says.
Coaches and members emphasize that anyone can learn, and the team is always looking for new members. “You never know if you’re gonna like it unless you try it. So just show up. Anyone can shoot us an email. We’re open to anyone. The biggest advice is just try it,” Croll says.
On March 4, Blair Crew is offering those interested in trying crew a two hour session on the water where they can meet rowers and coaches and learn to row from 12-2 p.m. at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. If interested, you can contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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