On May 8, The Fairfield University men’s rowing team traveled to the largest collegiate regatta in North America and took some hardware back with them. The Fairfield Stags took the Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta, hosted on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, PA, by storm this year. Not only did Fairfield’s novice A boat lead the charge for the Stags, notching a win in not only their heat race, but they were also able to secure the gold medal in the Men’s Frosh/Novice Four Final.
Training was nothing short of rigorous for the Stags leading up to this race.
“As a team we worked so hard for over a year with the hope that we would get back to regattas,” said Alex Hemmat ‘23.
For months on end, abiding by social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions, these athletes were unsure of when they would be able to return to training on the water. They relied heavily on the school’s facilities to stay in competition shape.
Luckily, during the spring semester of 2021, a professional-grade erg room was built in Dolan Hall, in an effort to elevate the program to new heights.
The key to the Stags’ training was consistency. The team would carry on with their typical two-workout schedule, with a morning practice as well as a second workout later in the day for conditioning between six and seven days per week. Fortunately, by the end of the semester, the men were able to deviate from machines and take to the water.
According to rookie coxswain Thomas Flynn, the lineup for the novice boat was not decided until two weeks before the championship race. This left the athletes to set and reach their own personal goals. “Once we found out what the lineup was going to be then we locked-in and trained with the mentality that we were going to win,” he noted.
Though Flynn was excited, he remained humble stating that “I was not completely certain that we were going to win, but I had all the faith in the world that we could win the race if we went out there and put everything we had into that day.”
This driven mentality is a meaningful one to contribute as a coxswain.
Brendan Martin ‘24 appreciated the camaraderie that was strong within his boat. “Mentally, our four really found our groove about two weeks before race day, that’s when we began to really believe we had a shot at winning. For those two weeks all of our training was done with a “gold medal mentality” as we phrased it every morning on the dock.”
The Stags’ A boat was up against Marietta College, Bucknell University, Fairfield’s B boat and Stockton University in heat 2. Stopping the clock at 07:13.643, the Stags created a comfortable 11.658 second cushion between themselves and runner-ups Marietta who crossed the finish line at 7:25.301.
In Fairfield’s A boat were first-years Michael Hamilton, Mike McCarthy and Martin as well as sophomore Hemmat and Flynn. Their first place standing earned them a bid in the finals where the Stags faced a handful of new adversaries, and they took on this competition, unwaveringly strong. They crossed the finish line in the nick of time, cementing their time in at 06:36.675.
At their tails were the Mercyhurst University Lakers (06:36.135), leaving just short of a second and a half of leeway between the silver and gold medalists.
“It felt absolutely amazing to not only race these teams that were established and well-respected, but to beat them as well,” said Hemmat. “We were hopeful, but did not expect it. I know that everyone in my boat wanted to win a medal, but all in all the mentality of everyone in that boat was to go out there and perform to the best of our abilities,” the sophomore continued.
This season was riddled with adversity for the rowers, with a mid-season change in leadership, as well as constant COVID-19 hurdles to overcome. Graduate student Matthew Sutter stepped up to the plate, offering these student-athletes guidance to finish out their season when Casey Fuller ‘18 abruptly left the program with no formal explanation made to the public.
Though there is no official interim coach designated on Fairfield’s official athletics website, director of rowing and head coach of the women’s team David Patterson is listed as the sole member of the men’s rowing staff on the official roster.
Hemmat praised his team’s leadership, and credited such leadership in part for his success.”I am so grateful for our leadership who kept us on task physically and really were there focus[ed] mentally as we navigated COVID,” he said. “It made all the difference in the world. I definitely have gained confidence and absolutely will step up to lead and support my team in the years to come!”
This year’s young victors look to the future, and what this win means for the rest of their career at Fairfield.
“Next season, the goals that myself and my teammates have set are pretty simple. To never stop preparing. I believe that achieving a medal in my freshman year of collegiate rowing will help to instill confidence in me as leader and teammate on the rowing team, and it will help to send a message to each grade that comes in after us that Fairfield rowing can and will continue to achieve great things,” stated Flynn.
Martin was inspired by a quote passed on to him by a family member which stated “today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster.” He noted it to be the greatest reminder that though his boat’s win was commendable, there is something to be said about striving for more success in the future.
“Just because we won a big race doesn’t mean the training stops. This summer and into the fall we have to keep at it. [We have to] Hold ourselves to the same standard,” said Hamilton.
The young Stags on Fairfield rowing have plenty of time at Fairfield to make their lasting mark as athletes, and this particular group is one to watch.