Under threats of heavy wind and thunderstorms, the Ithaca College men’s and women’s rowing teams started their spring seasons at the annual Cayuga Duels on April 1, marking their return to competition.
Both squads were in action as they welcomed in Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Williams College, Cornell University and Washington College to compete on the Cayuga Inlet in a series of dual races.
Senior Jake Lentz, who is on the men’s varsity eight for the Bombers, said the weather was a risk all week and caused the event to be moved up and down in the day — originally being scheduled for 9 a.m., before being pushed back to noon, then up to 11 a.m.
“We were worried, [we were] constantly checking the radar this week,” Lentz said. “But tailwind, blue skies, you really can’t ask for much better than this!”
Becky Robinson ’88, head coach of the women’s team, said lightning is the only condition the teams will not compete under, so they would be ready for anything. She said the teams stay prepared by practicing every day, no matter what the weather is.
“Do we practice when it snows? Yes. Do we practice when it rains? Yes. Do we practice when it’s windy? Yes,” Robinson said. “If it’s safe, we practice, because we know someday we will race in those conditions.”
The day started with the closest race of the regatta, as the Ithaca College women’s third varsity eight came in just 0.4 seconds slower than Williams, but it was not the last of the action. Five squads took to the water for the women, with the four varsity eights competing as well as the novice four crew. The men raced three boats, the two varsity eights and a novice four.
For Lentz and his teammates, it was a rough day that saw them lose both races. The crew lost to Hobart by just three seconds, a very close margin against a team that recently moved to Division I.
In the second race, the Bombers fell by 15 seconds to reigning Division III champions Williams, in part because the boat got stuck on a buoy near the end. Regardless of the results, though, Lentz said it felt good to be on the water.
“We’re excited to build off this,” Lentz said. “We had one good race to take away, we had one bad race to take away, [so we just] keep on pushing.”
The women’s varsity eight was a different story. The Bombers cruised to a 22-second victory over William Smith and jumped out to an early lead over Williams in their second race, but Robinson said the team could not hold on, losing by under four seconds.
“That’s something we’ve got to look at and figure out how we’re going to work on,” Robinson said. “That’s tough, at this point in the season.”
The 2,000-meter course ran almost the entirety of the Cayuga Inlet and ended by the Ithaca Farmers Market, which had opened its outdoor location earlier that day for the first time in 2023.
Parents, friends and passersby were spread out across the entire stretch. Some sat on the docks by the water, others walked the Cayuga Waterfront Trail or watched from the Boatyard Grill around the final 500 meters of the course.
Jeffrey North ’06, a former walk-on member of the men’s rowing team, said he was glad to be back for the beautiful weather and to experience the culture around rowing again. North said he thinks having the inlet as a home course offers the Bombers some advantages during the season.
“The water’s really smooth [in the inlet, which] gives us a lot of ability to train in a protected area,” North said. “But by being able to go out into the lake as well, the teams for Ithaca now tend to get a lot more practice in choppy, rough waters, which can be really decisive if, on the big race day, it’s windy, it’s rainy.”
The men’s second varsity eight had a difficult outing, falling behind Hobart by 14 seconds and Williams by 24. The final action for the day on the men’s team was the novice fours, which came in third place behind both Hobart and Cornell’s lightweight team.
For the women, the second varsity eight also took a massive win over William Smith, topping the Herons by 20 seconds. However, the boat crossed the line 11 seconds after Williams in its second race of the day.
Although the fourth varsity eight lost to Williams by 19 seconds on the results sheet, Robinson said it was much closer than it might seem on paper after a slew of things went wrong for the Bombers.
“The boats veered toward each other, they clashed oars, one of the Ithaca women caught a crab, which is when they got their blade stuck in the water, and then the oarlock popped out,” Robinson said. “The boat basically stopped. … They were neck and neck at 250 [meters] to go, which is one minute left in the race, and that was too bad that one didn’t get to play out.”
Justin Stangel, head coach of the men’s team, said that although they lost every race, it was a promising start to the season, especially considering their competition.
“I thought we put ourselves out there and really pushed our limits,” Stangel said. “It’s a good jumping-off point for the season. Racing these top-tier teams … and setting the margin early on in the season so that we know where we stack up against some of the best in the country.”