Two years ago, the Fairfield women’s rowing team won its first ever gold medal at a national regatta, at Dad Vail—the largest competition that Fairfield competes in. The boat that won was a varsity four.
This occurrence may not sound overly impressive, but one fact makes this note-worthy: All the rowers on that boat were walk-on, non-scholarship rowers.
Since then, the rowing team has arguably been the most successful team on campus, especially the women. The current freshman 4 boat has only been rowing together since November, and currently has a record of 57-3.
The team continued their winning ways this past weekend, placing 3rd in the Grand Final of the Knecht Cup in New Jersey. Both the men’s and women’s rowing teams performed well at the meet, with the men’s varsity four and the freshman eight both placing fourth in their respective petite finals. The women’s varsity pair also finished well, placing 6th.
The director of rowing, David Patterson, who coaches both the men’s and women’s teams, was happy with the teams’ performances over the weekend, but addressed how much the teams have to grow so they can compete on the national level.
“I’m impressed by their commitment to get better … The only way to get from where we are to where we want to be is to work hard, and they’re not shying away from it.”
One problem standing in their way is the lack of rowers, at least for the women’s team. Currently, the women’s team does not feature enough rowers to qualify for the NCAA championship. That means that even if the team wins the MAAC, it will not be eligible for the championship, as they do not have enough boats to compete.
Under NCAA rules for women’s rowing, all teams must feature two boats of eight rowers and a boat of four.
Fairfield’s women’s team does not have enough rowers to fill all those boats.
However, Coach Patterson praises the rowers that he did have, calling them “the strongest I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Patterson was very high on the accomplishments his women’s teams have had over the years. “We win at Dad Vail, which is a national regatta…We win national titles, but don’t get recognized for it.”
For now, the women’s team will have to focus on improving their personal best times, something they are very familiar with. Patterson said that the rowers were consistently beating their personal bests throughout the year, and that they are in reach of competing with the best teams in their conference.
Coach Patterson was equally as complimentary for the men’s team, which is one of the youngest varsity sports teams on campus, as it features just one junior and no seniors.
“It is a young team,” said Patterson. “… it’s hard to get the tall, lean guys, and especially hard to get them here for rowing. Anybody we get to come here is taking a chance on us. We tell them that if they come here, they get to be a starter for four years.”
The men’s team is one that is one the rise. Last year, the freshman eight appeared to have finished third at Dad Vail, but was disqualified for a lane violation. It would have been the best finish they had ever had.
Patterson was optimistic about the rest of the year and beyond. “Last year we got some traction, but got that kick in the teeth with that disqualification,” said Patterson. “This year, we’ve built on that again, and if the freshmen have a good, positive experience, and get the results … then the varsity is going to get bigger and stronger.”
He continued: “It took a while to get going last year, it was a breakthrough year, and this year we definitely want to play with the big boys.”
Patterson was pleased by how the rowers were buying into the fact that they can compete with some of the best teams in the country. He was so impressed that he paid for membership into the Intercollegiate Rowing Association, which would allow them to compete in the national championship.
“I thought the last year or two years the guys started buying into what it takes to row at that level. … The guys believe it is possible. The carrot is there, so if you prove you want to go, I will get you there.”