Men’s Crew Rows Towards Greatness

Since the summer of 1981, the University of Rochester Crew Team has seen over three decades of support and growth.  The team’s historical identity has roots that connect it to both the River Campus and the Greater Rochester Community.  Beginning with just three undergraduates with interest in rowing, the early financial and coaching support from faculty, alumni, and community organizations allowed the team to develop into the competitive force that it is today.

I sat down with Keith McCutcheon ‘16, who is majoring in microbiology, with minors in history, philosophy, and chemistry, and his fellow rower, electrical and computer engineering major Jeremy Warner ’15, to find out more about how the men’s crew team operates.

Prospective new members for both men’s and women’s rowing need not have any prior experience.  “Recruitment is open and very much encouraged for completely inexperienced people,” said McCutcheon.  The rising junior was one of many rowing novices that came into the sport as a novel experience.  “I didn’t row at all in high school, and neither did a majority of the rowing team.”

The team rows out of the Genesee Rowing Club Boathouse, located roughly a mile from the River Campus at the intersection of the Genesee River and the Erie Canal. U of R owns and races a fleet of top quality eights, fours, pairs, doubles, and singles, as well as a dedicated ergometer room in the Athletic Center used during winter training.

This year, the team also gained access to a new, indoor training center on the bottom floor of The Flats at Brooks Crossing.  “We used to be limited to a workout room in the basement of the Goergen Athletic Center, but now we have a swing-u-later, a weight lifting area, and a massive ‘erg’ room,” said Warner.  The original plan promised a new boat house available at Brooks, but due to rushed construction, the plan became unviable.  Instead, the Department of Athletics provided new, top-of-the line equipment for the team’s use.  “It’s a very nice upgrade from where we were before in the basement of the GAC,” said McCutcheon.  “Access to new equipment is a big step forward for both the men’s and women’s programs.”

The head coach of the men’s rowing team is John Burnfield, who used to be the head trainer at River Campus.  “At the Head of the Genesee, the open four is called the John Burnfield trophy. It’s got his name on it,” said McCutcheon.  Burnfield, a renowned local rower, is a driving force that pushes the team to competitive excellence.

Men’s and women’s rowing teams compete in major Fall regattas such as the Head of the Charles and the Head of the Schulykill.  Spring championships include the New York State Championship Regatta, Dad Vails, and the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) Championship Regatta.

One high-profile regatta the men’s crew team has recently done very well in is ACRAs.  The national competition, held in Gainseville, Georgia, includes an Olympic course.  “It takes place on this gorgeous lake, where the Olympic rings are still up,” said McCutcheon, who credited the course as one of his favorite rowing experiences.  The team competed last May, staying in Rochester even after commencement to train.  “We’ve had some pretty good successes in small boats, especially in pairs,” said McCutcheon.  “We also raced at head of the Charles this year,” he said.  “It’s the second biggest regatta in the world, after the Henley in Thames. The Charles is a longer Head race — head race season takes place in the fall, with sprints in the spring.”

As far as recent races go, the team has been pretty active with its competitive schedule. “This last week, we were at Ithaca, racing against Ithaca College and RIT.  The week before that we were here, racing against St. Lawrence at home. Starting off this spring, we beat St. Lawrence, pretty handily, by a couple lengths of open water, which is a good start to the spring season,” said Warner.  Other races this year have brought the team to the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Worcester where they competed against schools like Colby, Worcester Polytechnic, and Bates.

The month of April found the team competing for the Kerr Cup on the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania.  The men’s rowing team took home a few individual awards for their performance.  For the first time in history, the team will be going to the Liberty League competition, a race usually reserved for only varsity teams.

When asked about his favorite race of all time, McCutcheon shared a story of one of his first experiences on the team.  “We ended up getting second at one of my first races,” he said, still recalling the toothy grin on his coach’s face.  “It was a very new experience. That’s one of the things about being a novice: you don’t know how good you are, so you often surprise yourself.”

Warner, on the other hand, most valued the network of support that he gained through crew.  “One of the biggest benefits that I’ve gotten from being a part of the crew team is the tight-knit community that I’ve embedded myself into. It speaks to how well you get to know everyone on the team, and how close you become to each other,” he said.  “All of that is external from the actual boats and sports. It’s really nice to have a group of people that I know I can always depend on and talk to for something.”

For more information about the Men’s Crew Team, visit their website.