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Sea of opportunity gives men’s rowing a chance to win it all

From+left%2C+Junior+oarsman+Miles+Kenaston+and+junior+rower+Riley+Maynard+will+look+to+the+leadership+of+head+coach+Justin+Stangel+to+lead+them+to+a+Liberty+League+title.
Maddy Tanzman, Kaeleigh Banda
From left, Junior oarsman Miles Kenaston and junior rower Riley Maynard will look to the leadership of head coach Justin Stangel to lead them to a Liberty League title.

The Ithaca College men’s rowing team is coming off a season that saw them end their season at the National Invitational Rowing Championships for the second year in a row. The young squad will look to earn an automatic qualifying slot to the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship with a new look for the Liberty League conference.

Head coach Justin Stangel joined the Bombers in 2022 after the departure of storied 34-year head coach Dan Robinson. Junior rower Riley Maynard said Stangel has instilled confidence and a competitive nature within the team. Maynard said that Stangel has had the team’s back and that they have his.

“We love the guy [Stangel], he deserves a raise, whoever hired him deserves a raise,” Maynard said. “I think his ambition and his Midwestern charm are really going to lead us to the national stage in a couple of years. I describe him as a big transformational leader, just seeing what he’s done with the program and trying to keep us really competitive, bringing in a bunch of new recruits.”

After a successful fall that saw wins over Liberty League foes Hobart College and St. Lawrence University, the Bombers are looking to make the next step. Stangel said the first step is in conference, but it does not end there. 

“We’re definitely looking competitive in the Liberty League with the fall results,” Stangel said. “I think we’re in the thick of it. Last year, getting second at the championship was a little bit of a bummer, but I think about where we were, we’re trying to reverse that and make sure we get ahead of St. Lawrence or whoever else might be in the mix this spring. So the goal is to go and compete for a championship and then if we do that, we get the AQ to go compete for national championships. That’s the long-term goal.”

While the team has been hard at work training since the fall, they have also taken advantage of integrating its new players into the system early. Stangel said he believes the group will work effortlessly together.

“I think we have a good chemistry within the program now,” Stangel said. “We worked in the walk-on group earlier than we normally would in past years and I think that’s only just made it better in terms of team cohesion. No team is perfect and we always work on what team culture is. It’s a daily, weekly kind of occurrence in conversations. But I think everyone wants to get better and it doesn’t matter, top boat, bottom boat, everyone’s trying to make themselves a little bit better.”

Part of that early integration has been first-year rowers who will have an important role to play in the spring season. First-year rowers Rhys Pellaton, Max Detzer and Brodie Hart all contributed to the varsity eight in the fall and will look to ride that momentum into the spring. Junior coxswain Miles Kenaston emphasized the first-year involvement and said he is starting to see them grow into their roles.

“That just goes to show how large of a presence [the first-year students] have on the team,” Kenaston said. “I think in fall at least three of them were in the boat. So in that regard, they are making a big impact and also a few of the younger guys are starting to take up leadership roles in that area and it’s good to see. It’s good to be able to mentor.”

To go along with building team chemistry, Stangel has put an emphasis on durability. Maynard said Stangel has implemented a new program that pushes resilience and work ethic through weekly team centered talks.

“The phrase he likes to use is durability, when we fall, getting back up and keeping it pushing and I think he’s really pushed some cultural change,” Maynard said.

To go along with Stangel’s emphasis on durability and culture, Maynard said Stangel has taken the opportunity presented by new NCAA practice rules.

“He’s really taking advantage of this new legislation in the NCAA that allows for, I think, 114 days of official practice,” Maynard said. “He’s optimized our training schedule to maximize our time with him in official practices. So we’re getting to erg as a team with him there to coach us a little bit earlier. He’s super into it. During his breaks, the guy goes to high school events to go scout out new recruits. He’s all about making the team better.”

Not only have the Bombers been maximizing their physical training but mental training has been a key emphasis along with it. Kenaston said that as an oarsman, he is trying to improve on being a leader in the boat, which in turn he believes will add to the already strong bond. 

“Focus in competition on getting the maximum effort I can get out of everyone in the boat and that I’m really trying to improve,” Kenaston said. “My personal skills are coaching and technical feedback. Sort of becoming like a coach in the boat. That’s something people say and it takes a lot of time and a lot of focus to start to be able to pick up on things. So that’s what I’m trying to improve on. Just trying to facilitate the best culture of growth that I think we can and get on the water and pull my heart.”

One change that the team will have to deal with is the addition of another away race. Stangel said that while the workload of the schedule will be a bit different, the team is looking forward to the opportunity to compete.

“The only kind of big change in this year’s schedule is we’re adding an away race mid-April,” Stangel said. “So we’re going down to New Jersey and getting some competition against D-lll and D-l schools. So that’ll be kind of a good long weekend for us. So it’s three races over two days, which is a little bit more unusual.”

In the past few years, the biggest obstacles for the team have been St. Lawrence University and Hobart College. Maynard said the departure of Hobart has really opened up the league for the Bombers.

“In the past, our biggest Liberty League competitor was Hobart College,” Maynard said. “They recently reclassified. They’re now a division one rowing team and we’re D-lll still, so that really opened up the Liberty League for us and the opportunity to get to the national stage.”

With all this preparation well underway, Maynard said he hopes the team can not only take the conference, but get to the big stage in July.

“We’re really hoping to win the Liberty leagues,” Maynard said. “That’s number one on our list. We want to come out of there first and I think beyond that getting to the IRA’s in Jersey in early July is where we want to be. I think five years down the road, coach Stangel is building the team culture that’s going to be pushing for some medals at nationals.”

The men’s rowing season will get underway at 9 a.m. March 30 at the Cayuga Inlet for the Cayuga Duals.

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