March 20, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 49°F


Men’s rowing tries to overtake conference rivals

After a short stint of three races in the fall and a five-month break, the Ithaca College men’s rowing team is getting back in the boat for the spring season.

Going into the season with just five seniors on the roster — the team’s lowest total since having only one in the 2018–19 season — and a new head coach, the Bombers are looking for all 25 members to contribute, both in the water and in the boathouse.

One of the seniors, Dehron Smith, said it has been a big change for the team since it last competed in the spring when it was under head coach Dan Robinson ’79, who announced his retirement in March 2022 following 35 years at the helm.

“It’s a huge transition in the leadership for the team,” Smith said. “I think the emphasis is to maintain our standards — or exceed them — in this period as you transition the leadership and make sure nothing is lost.”

The new head coach has not traveled far to join the Bombers. Justin Stangel, who was hired in June 2022, joins the South Hill squad from Hobart College, where he served as an assistant coach. Stangel was also a Division I rower in college at Syracuse University and has rowed at the World Championships and Olympic Trials.

Stangel said there will always be subtle changes every time a new coach joins a program, but his hope is to help the team to be the best it can be.

“At the end of the day, I think the guys like to work hard and they like to make boats go fast,” Stangel said. “So that’s what we focus on when we’re at the boathouse. Once you step foot through that door, we’re not worried about academics or projects or other things that are going on in the world. We really just try … and make sure we’re getting the most out of every session.”

While the older members of the team will be essential to continuing the existing team culture, the Bombers will also look to some younger faces to lead the team, like sophomore Griffin Hunt. As a first-year student in 2022, Hunt was a member of the varsity eight boat, the top boat at competitions, which he said is not common for a rower in his first season with the team.

“I was pleasantly surprised to be put on the varsity boat, but I also feel like I earned it,” Hunt said. “I always felt valued on the team, but that really made me feel like I can really help lead the team.”

Of the 25 athletes on the roster, just eight are upperclassmen, and Hunt said many of the younger rowers have little rowing experience. So even though he is just in his second year on the team, his time rowing before college means he has to be a leader to teach new rowers the technique.

“You get a lot of people that have no idea where to start,” Hunt said. “[We are] helping guide them, work with them on the same level to try and get where they want to be. It’s been really fun.”

As the season goes on, Hunt said he hopes that dynamic continues. Last season, the men put up a solid performance at the Liberty League Championships, taking second place behind the Hobart College Statesmen by three seconds. However, the Statesmen — who have captured the past 16 consecutive conference titles — will no longer compete in the conference, now racing at the Division I level.

And, for the first time, Stangel said the winner of the Liberty League will automatically qualify for the National Championships at the end of the season. That, along with the conference opening up with the absence of the Statesmen, means the Bombers have the chance for a historic season.

“[There are] a bunch of opportunities available to the team this year in terms of doing something that has never been done before,” Stangel said.

But to get to that point in the season, the Bombers have to succeed in their slate of five competitions in the spring. Stangel said one thing that makes the rowing season difficult is the long break — from the end of October to the beginning of February — when the athletes are training and working out on their own.

“If we have to have a hard reset when they come back, then it’s going to be a lot more challenging,” Stangel said. “Last week, we did some testing because it was our first week back, and those that had kept up and put their time in had some really good stuff, and there were some guys that might have been a little bit more disappointed on where their results fell.”

Even once the season starts, Smith said that keeping up on workouts and training is essential to having the success they all want to have.

“[Rowing] is not like other sports where you have 15 or 20 games,” Smith said. “We just have a few races where it comes down to, so that’s why people often say rowing is a training sport. We spend most of our time just training for maybe six to eight races a year.”

With three races in the books from the fall, the men will get back on the Cayuga Inlet at the Cayuga Duels on April 1 for the team’s first competition of the season.

Aidan Charde can be reached at or via Twitter: @AidanCharde