Williams’ women rowers seeking ninth consecutive NCAA title
PITTSFIELD -- For a school that has as many NCAA Division III women’s rowing championships as Williams College does, team building doesn’t always come from recruiting.
"I never rowed before college," said Williams co-captain Tala Abujbara. "I joined halfway through my freshman year here."
Abujbara, her teammates and head coach Kate Maloney are off for Indianapolis, Ind., at the end of the week to compete for an NCAA title. Williams has won an NCAA-record eight consecutive titles, and are seeking their ninth.
The championship begins on Friday and concludes on Saturday.
If the Ephs are successful in winning, the current crop of seniors will become the sixth consecutive group to win four national titles in four years.
But for the seniors on Maloney’s team, it’s not about what has happened. It’s about what is potentially going to happen.
"Each year is separate. Each year is a new year," senior co-captain Sarah Peters said during an interview at the college’s boathouse on Onota Lake. "It’s a new team and it’s a new group of people we’re working with. I’m excited to do this together with this team this year."
Maloney came to Williams in 2011 after being an assistant coach at Division I schools Northeastern and Yale. She was a member of the women’s eights that finished sixth in the 2000 Olympics at Sydney, Australia. Romania was the gold-medal team that year.
She brings her team to Indiana off what had to be a disappointing finish in the ECAC meet at Lake Quin sigimond in Worcester on May 11. That day, the first varsity eights boat finished second and the second varsity eights was fourth.
"We’ve just gained so much speed since then," said Abujbara. "Every day at practice just gives us the impetus to work harder and go faster."
Maloney said the fact that the team had about three weeks to reset after that meet will do nothing but help.
"We’re on our own path this year, uncharted territory," said Maloney. "Sometimes, I think it just takes a hard reset to really unlock the potential of a team.
"It’s impossible to continue a run forever and it’s not always going to look the same. The end result may be the same, but it’s not always going to look the same."
The same can be said of the Williams team. This year’s group of title contenders has rowers from 17 different states and two foreign countries.
"In Qutar, there is not much of a rowing scene," said Abu jbara, who will graduate with a degree in Biology. "I didn’t know what it was. I came. I had some friends who did it and said I’d give it a shot."
Peters, who will graduate next month with a degree in physics, grew up a soccer player in Evanston, Ill., and had never been in a shell before.
"I’d seen them in the Olympics on TV," she said. "That was the only time I had seen a shell."
Peters said she received an email from the coaching staff to say that crew was something they could take a look at when they got to Williamstown. Peters and Abujbara both said they thought they’d give it a try, and now they’re on the verge of bringing another national title home to the college.
Maloney said she had to do a lot of coaching with this group when it returned in the fall. The Ephs graduated six veterans from the 2013 national champions, a senior class that Maloney called "physically powerful.
"We had a new look of seniors coming in with a new tack on leadership and a different middle group of kids and freshmen coming in. Every year looks different. It takes a little time to sort out what that path is going to be."
The Eph head coach said her team’s "bread and butter" is the walk-on contingent, which both Peters and Abujbara were.
"This year, I had four recruits," Maloney said. "In the end, I had one recruit rowing in the freshman eights at the ECAC. Basically, it was an all-walk-on eight at the ECACs.
"How many of them stick is sort of how it attracts them, how it keeps them and what they’re getting from it."
Both co-captains say they’re ready to compete for another national title. As the Ephs head to the Midwest, Maloney said she could tell they’ll be ready to go.
"They’re locked and load ed," said Maloney, "and they’re going to give their best effort. If it’s enough, then their bow will go across the finish line first. If it’s not -- all I can hope for is that I’ve prepared them well enough so when they do line up for the finals, they can put their best foot forward."
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