Girl’s crew team overcomes challenges for new season



Although usually a rower, Basie Briney fills in as coxswain during crew practice on the Charles River.

Standing on the edge of the Charles River, boats of all different shapes, sizes and speeds make their way through the city. Small, single-person kayaks paddle gently along with the current, and giant motorboats zoom under bridges, creating wakes large enough to hit both Cambridge and Boston at once.

In between those extremes is a hardworking team hailing from the high school, with all of its athletes working in tandem to speed their slender boat, called a shell, upstream. After a year of change, the varsity girl’s crew team is finally back in the full swing of things.

Like many sports teams, the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a tumultuous year for the crew team. Between the team’s spring and summer seasons, their head coach moved to Manhattan to help make rowing more accessible to lower-income athletes.

This year, the team was faced with the challenge of finding a new head coach. They landed on Brian DeDominici, who said what he loves the most about crew is the team aspect of the sport.

“I like how there’s no one ‘star.’ You can have people that are really strong and really make a boat move, but you’re not going to win races with just one person unless they’re rowing in a single. For the most part, when you’re in team boats on a high school team it’s a combination of people,” DeDominici said. “A boat that goes fast doesn’t go fast just because it’s got eight fast people; they really have to figure out how to work together.”

DeDominici has coached in many different places, including Georgia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. What he’s loved the most about coaching throughout his career is the continuous process of helping a team improve.

“I like the process it takes getting crews to come together and the process it takes to get ready for a race. Every day is like problem solving; every day is a new puzzle to be solved,” DeDominici said. “The racing is great, it’s important and it’s what we’re all working towards, but I like that every day is trying to make one step towards getting a little faster.”

Senior Nina Brinckerhoff, one of three team captains, has been rowing since her freshman year. She joined because she loved being on the water and liked that the sport requires hard work and dedication. Brinckerhoff said her favorite part of the sport is the feeling of being in sync with her crewmates.

“I love it when there’s this feeling that comes in the boat when everyone is connecting and moving together. It’s kind of like flying. It only happens when you get it just right, and that’s what I like most is that feeling of nine people being one,”Brinckerhoff said.

The season has been going well so far, according to Brinckerhoff, but the team has experienced some difficulty due to the small number of coxswains, teammates who steer and make calls to motivate the rowers.
“We have two coxswains, but ideally we’d have three. Right now we’re substituting rowers into the coxswain’s seat. It’s definitely more difficult because it means that the coach has to focus on telling the people how to steer rather than talking about the rowing,” Brinckerhoff said.

Last year, the team was forced to use small boats, and those smaller boats required fewer coxswains than usual. This year, the team has gone back to using larger boats, called “eights” because they fit eight people, and the number of coxswains did not adjust to the size of the boats. This has left the team shorthanded. One of the team’s newest recruits, junior Phoebe Rieur, filled one of those much-needed coxswain slots. Rieur said that she naturally makes a good coxswain.

“I’m short and loud and I’ve always wanted to do it, even in middle school. I couldn’t really do it in middle school because I was busy with other stuff, but now I like it,” Rieur said.

Rieur joined the team quite recently, in the middle of September, and doesn’t have any prior experience with rowing. Despite that, Rieur said that things have been going well.

“I’m not quite there yet because I’m very new so I still don’t know exactly what’s wrong and what’s right, but they help me out,” Rieur said. “Everyone is really welcoming, and I can tell everyone’s friends. It’s a really tight community that I feel really welcomed in, which is nice.”

With new team members and a new coach, Brinckerhoff and DeDominici both said there’s always a bit of adjustment in order for things to stay on course.

“It’s one of those things that you can’t rush; we have races coming up and a lot of things to do in preparation for those races but at this point it’s more important to be establishing things,” DeDominici said. “Every day is a little bit of trial and error, where we make a step in this direction and then sometimes the captains will tell me ‘this is the way we used to do things’ and ‘this is why we’re reacting this way to this’ and I’ll say ‘ok, then we’re going to try this’ and we’ll build off of that.”

Regardless of any difficulties the year may bring, DeDominici, Brickerhoff and Rieur are all excited to be a part of the team.

As Brinckerhoff put it, “We row because rowing is fun.”