Rowing is a grueling sport. According to Men’s Rowing Head Coach George Repicky M’05, it isn’t fun if you’re doing it right.
It requires eight bodies to move and think in perfect synchrony, taxes every muscle group, and demands equal parts power and control—all of this to appear effortless as the crew glides across the water.
This year, countless hours of year-round training paid off for the St. Lawrence men’s rowing team, which took home back-to-back championship titles in its most successful season in program history.
“We decided early on that we were going to be a team that could trust one another to give their best effort, day in and day out,” says former captain Cameron Kessler ’23. “It was an incredible feeling to win, but there was no secret sauce. We simply outworked every other team from September to April and we did it for each other.”
On Friday, May 5, the men’s Varsity 8 captured their first-ever Liberty League title, crossing the finish line with a time of 6:02.16 and winning by 5.7 seconds. The next day, they were named New York State Champions when they secured a first-place finish in the finals, defeating Hamilton, Iona, Vassar, Ithaca, and—very narrowly—Army with a final time of 6:24.201.
“We felt relieved because we had spent so much time and effort trying to achieve our goal,” says Kessler. “It was also very special to win in a new boat that was donated to us by our alumni. They really supported the team throughout this year with new boats, oars, gear, and dinners.”
Rowing alumni, parents and friends met a challenge from Bill Weber ’78 during the fall donor challenge, landing new boats for the Saints. The Saints men’s Varsity 8 earned Liberty League Crew of the Year honors, while Coach Repicky and the Saints’ staff were named Coaching Staff of the Year. Kessler made the All-Liberty League First Team.
“On race day, the coaches talk with their athletes in advance of their race, but after I leave the dock, they’re on their own. When things matter the most, the crew is responsible for making decisions,” says Repicky. “This year, I knew that I had the leadership within the program to let the team take ownership of this challenge.”
Out on the water at the height of the race, a boat’s inability to navigate dueling feelings of agony and exhilaration can be its downfall. The key to winning, Kessler explains, is deciding as a team to push through when it matters most.
“I love being in a boat with eight other people and knowing that they are giving their absolute all,” says Kessler. “Races are painful. The lactic acid starts to build in about 20 seconds and doesn’t stop until the race is over. After about three minutes, the pain becomes almost overwhelming. In the final stretch, you start thinking about the long grueling hours of training and all the sacrifices your teammates made and you find the motivation to sprint to the finish line. The moment you burst through a mental barrier that seems unbreakable is such a special feeling—it can’t be replicated anywhere else.”
Races are painful...The moment you burst through a mental barrier that seems unbreakable is such a special feeling–it can't be replicated anywhere else."
–Cameron Kessler '23
Now, with two championship titles behind them, the rowing team can look forward to exciting updates ahead. Included in the second phase of renovations to Appleton Arena are plans for a state-of-the-art rowing complex, which will be part of the George W. Karpus ’68 Athletic Center. The space will be home to a pair of 16-station rowing tanks, erg machines, and other equipment on campus to complement the team’s training on the water.
“The program is about to celebrate its 25th year as a varsity sport, and it continues to be a work in progress,” says Repicky. “The Laurentian rowing family and the Saints’ athletics alumni are special. From coming to races or games or meets, to mentoring new graduates in their career field, to supporting current athletes, it’s a group that cares about the next groups’ experience at the University and, at least for us, on the St. Lawrence River.”