Bates Bobcast Episode 146: The Bates Women's Rowing Dynasty

They did it again! On Saturday, the Bates women's rowing team won its third NCAA title in a row, and its fourth in the last five years. The Bobcats won every race by open water. But it was not as easy as it appears on paper. Find out why on the season finale of the Bates Bobcast!

Interviews this episode:

  • 1:27 -- Maya Seshan '20, Second Varsity Eight Coxswain.
  • 5:31 -- Sophie Claus '19, Second Varsity Eight, Team Captain.
  • 12:14 -- Sophia Rintell '19, First Varsity Eight Stroke, Team Captain.

Bobcast Transcript

Aaron: This is the Bates Bobcast. Our weekly podcast where we take a look at the week that was, in Bates athletics. My name is Aaron Morse and this week we’re celebrating the women’s rowing team’s third straight NCAA championship. Bates won all four races by open water in Indianapolis but it wasn’t as easy as it appears on paper. We’ll tell you more about it, coming up, on the Bates Bobcast!

Aaron: The NCAA Rowing Championships began with a delay. The Bates second varsity eight was supposed to begin its heat at 8:15 in the morning on Friday. But debris at the starting line forced a delay that lasted until 4pm. And when the second varsity eight finally got on the water, the Bobcats stopped rowing within the first 100 meters. The reason….a broken foot stretcher. So all the crews went back to the starting line. After that, it was  smooth sailing, with the 1V winning its heat by seven seconds and the 2V cruising to victory by 12 seconds on the re-start.

Aaron: Then on Saturday, both crews won their respective grand finals to clinch the national championship.

Aaron: It was second varsity eight coxswain Maya Seshan’s first NCAA Championships. The junior was presented with situations she doesn’t normally see on a typical race day. She talks about having to restart the heat and a surprise challenge in the grand final.

Maya: Definitely a little bit of a nerve wracking experience. I think having a boat like the one I did, having Grace Murnaghan sitting in front of me, having the rest of them backing us up made making that call easy, made making the call to stop and to have us restart that race, I think, meant a lot. Definitely a game time decision there. Very stressful, but I just tried to keep my calm, they kept their calm, they made things easy for us. You know, we came back stronger, I think, that second start, too.

Aaron: You have a grace period of what? 100 meters to stop the race?

Maya: Yes, you have 100 meters to stop. It's the breakage zone. It's marked by red buoys. We were just at the edge of it, very much at the edge of it. I'd say probably within a stroke of the end of the breakage zone and maybe two more strokes and we would've been gone.

Aaron: How were you alerted to it?

Maya: Shouting in the boat. There was a lot of, "Ahhhh," which is not normal at all. As soon as I heard that, as soon as I knew something was wrong, I put my hand up and we got that race stopped, which was really great.

Aaron: So on the restart, how'd that go? Obviously pretty well.

Maya: Yeah, I mean, I think for us it's like coach always says. "You have to have the time, you have to have the presence of mind to stop, to reset, take a deep breath, and then have things come back to where they were." So reset to that normal, and we restarted and I think we felt great.

Aaron: Today's grand final for the Second Varsity Eight obviously a win by open water. Early on you were kind of close with someone and you pulled away.

Maya: Yeah, we were pretty, pretty tight with WPI and Wesleyan and we had a little bit of debris stuck in our scag too, so running through the first half of the race course definitely a little bit rocky. You know, things were a little bit tight. Soon as we came past that 1000 meter mark, we started to lighten up, loosen up, it started feeling a lot better. Then 500 meter mark to go, something kind of slipped out of the scag, we were free, we just zoomed ahead. It felt great. Yeah.

Aaron: You're telling me that for the first 1500 meters of this race, you were racing with debris in the what now?

Maya: Yeah, a little stick or something stuck in our scag and I reached my hand into the water and pushed it out. Yeah. Yeah.

Aaron: But you were still leading even despite that right?

Maya: Yes, we were.

Aaron: What does that say about the strength of this crew?

Maya: I mean, this boat is just unbelievable. This is an incredible crew. This an incredible group of people. Not only my boat, but everyone who's here. 1V, spares, coaches, obviously. I mean, we have the rest of our team backing us up and I think this is just another testament to the fact that Bates rowing is deep and it's strong and we're still here.

Aaron: How would you sum up your first NCAA championship?

Maya: Incredible. I'm speechless honestly. I keep stumbling over my words because it still feels like a dream.

Aaron: Excellent. Then tell me a little bit about the senior leadership in the 2V. That must be nice to have.

Maya: Oh, it's incredible. To have three of the four seniors who are here rowing in my boat is just, it makes all the difference. You know, you feel that sense of maturity in their rowing. You see it in their faces before race time. They're there to calm everyone down, keep them settled, keep them in line, and honestly, I need it sometimes too. So having those three people, and all four of them who are here racing, to back us up is just amazing. Then to have people come from so far away to see us. Like Hannah Smith and Katie Weidmann is just awesome.

Aaron: How did you handle the delays you had to deal with?

Maya: Yeah, our team is built on flexibility. I think coach really instills in us this idea that no matter what you're doing, you're ready to roll with the punches. If something changes, who cares? We're still here doing what we need to do. I think honestly that's what really came in key for us here, what came in clutch. This team's ability to just move and do what's needed.

Aaron: Well, any other thoughts you want to share?

Maya: Just awesome. Awesome stuff. Thank you to my team. Thank you to the people here. Thank you to the coaches. Thank you for being here.

Aaron: For senior captain Sophie Claus, the national championship is extra special for what she’s had to overcome during her career. So the delay on Friday was nothing. The broken foot stretcher? A little more nerve wracking.

Sophie: The flexibility and the flexibility trousers are things that we're constantly wearing. If anything, we probably dealt with it better than other teams. I think it could've even been an advantage to us. It was definitely hard because we've been waiting to race for so long. Going into yesterday, to keep getting pushed back we were just getting, kind of, antsier and antsier, but coach reminded us to be back at the 'Scog, be back at the boathouse, and just apply all that energy to our race at 4:00pm.

Aaron: Then your foot stretcher breaks. What's going through your mind there? What happened?

Sophie: I was full of anxiety and it was wild. It was two strokes in and my foot came off, disattached from the boat. I had no idea what was going on. One stroke later, I started shouting to Maya and she couldn't hear me. Each stroke was going by and I was like, "Foot stretcher. Maya, Maya." Thankfully Emma York in front of me heard me and started yelling, and then Eliza Fischer started yelling. We stopped one meter within the breakage zone. This is the craziest thing. I was like, "I don't know what to do." I just started yelling and made that choice, I guess. We pulled off to the side and figured out you could actually clip the shoe back in, so it wasn't technically breakage, I guess. We, at that time, thought that if we had breakage at that point and it wasn't technically breakage, we were going to be disqualified from NCAA. So we were like, "This is, we're on the line. I just made this call and I could've put the boat and the entire team in jeopardy and we could be going home." That was a lot in those few minutes.

Sophie: Yeah, you could say I was stressed to say the least. Emma York and Lily Kinder, behind me, were really my rocks and patting my back as I was still looking at my foot off the foot stretcher. Then they came over, helped us fix it, and told us that we were just going to go back to the start line to start again. We were like, "Okay, let's do it. Let's go. We've been waiting all day for this. It's time to go." Yeah.

Aaron: What would've happened if you would've crossed the 100 meters?

Sophie: So I think that it would have been... I think we may have had to keep going. I'm not sure exactly. I think we could've stopped and then maybe it would've been a false start. But the breakage zone is just 100 meters so if like a rigger had broken or my foot stretcher had actually broken, then that would've been a different situation. But the coxswains know all that information, coaches told us that the rowers don't need to know it. That's fine by me.

Aaron: So you not knowing made you a little scared?

Sophie: Oh, absolutely. I was terrified. I was like, "Please, please let this be breakage. Please let my foot stretcher go back. I don't want to go back to the dock. I just want to do this race. We've been waiting all day and if this is the reason why we can't race, with debris and a foot stretcher, I don't know what I would've done.

Aaron: So today's race, I understand, Maya was telling me, there was debris slowing down the boat for the first, like, three quarters?

Sophie: Right. I didn't know about that until after we had finished, so I just was thinking, you know, this was a tough race and Wesleyan and WPI were really gunning for it and doing an amazing job. Same with every crew. But when we finished, then Maya and Murn and Phoebe were all talking about this piece of wood that had gotten stuck to our scag and we were like, "We had added resistance for no reason?" Just of course. A classic move for this boat and this crew. Just, you know, makes absolute sense.

Aaron: Just for my edification, scag? What's that?

Sophie: Scag is the part of the boat on the bottom that helps steer. So Maya's lines are connected to the scag and she can move it to help us move directions. It was caught on that and just, kind of, adding a whole other element of resistance to our rowing.

Aaron: So once they removed it at the 1500 meter mark, you said you didn't know about it during the race, but did you feel it getting faster, though?

Sophie: I mean, our race plan has us so that at the last 500 we pick it up anyways, so in my mind, we were just doing our normal fight-unload sequence in the next second thousand. So for me, I was just like, "We're going to push hard and everyone is laying it all on the line right now. There's no reason to hold back." So I thought that's what it was.

Aaron: And then across the finish line first, obviously pulled away there. At what point were you like, "Oh, we got this."

Sophie: For me, with this crew, as soon as we're ahead I know that nothing can stop us. It's like, you can see other crews, but the way our race plan is and the confidence I have in the rest of the women in that boat, it's like we wouldn't let anything come to us. I knew we were just going to keep pushing harder and harder. No one would let up, no matter what, no matter what happened. Even if we were gaining lengths, we would not have stopped, we would just keep going. So that was it.

Aaron: So I didn't realize, but you didn't go last year?

Sophie: No.

Aaron: This is your first time rowing at NCAA, as a senior, as a captain, what does this mean to you to be able to do this?

Sophie: It's a huge, huge thing. Last year, I hurt my back pretty badly in the spring. I just got back surgery this past December, so it has been a wild, wild ride and it feels like all the odds were stacked against us, myself, with all these injuries and things. To be here is such an enormous privilege. I'm so proud of everyone and myself to be honest. You know, that we've gotten here and that I could be a spare two years ago and then to be here right at the racing is's what you were saying about novices on this team. They really, they can do it, they can do just about anything. Yeah.

Aaron: Sure. So I guess with the surgery and everything, you even though this team was the overwhelming favorite coming in, there's still a little bit of the underdog mentality with you and maybe some of the other rowers.

Sophie: Oh, definitely. I think being that classic, gritty school in Maine we just, everybody keeps pushing no matter what. We don't race with other crews on our river, it's just us, so we're constantly battling each other and that's where the deepness comes from. That's where a lot of our strength comes from. So coming in, you know, we don't know really what to expect. We know all the crews who are training really hard between NIRCs and this regatta. We were just trying to do the same thing.

Aaron: Great. Well, any other thoughts on the third straight NCAA championship for Bates?

Sophie: I hope they keep going and I am so, so proud to be a part of this team and honored to be able to stand with them on stages and know that there's so many people back home and here that are supporting us. It's an incredible feeling.

Aaron: Senior captain stroke Sophia Rintell spent her entire Bates career in the first varsity eight boat, helping the Bobcats win three national titles along the way.

Sophia: I was having some nerves as everyone always does before the race, but there kind of came a moment right as we were waiting to line up to get into the start area when I realized I'm not nervous, I'm just excited. The seven or so minutes went by pretty quickly and all I could think about was just it's the last time and I just have to push as hard as I possibly can and enjoy it one last time.

Aaron: So, wind in your face a little bit?

Sophia: A little bit. Yeah, it was a little windy out there but nothing we can't handle, nothing we hadn't seen before.

Aaron: So when that type of situation, how does that change things, if anything at all, in terms of wind blowing towards you?

Sophia: It just means, you know, be a little grittier and all the same crews are out there experiencing the same wind, so trusting that we can handle it. If they can't, they can't, but we know we can.

Aaron: You're right by the coxswain, so you're hearing everything very clearly right next to her. What point were you and Liza like, "We got this. It's open water at this point."

Sophia: I think when we were crossing into the last 500, we had already made it clear that we were up, but I think we started moving even more and that was the moment we were like, "Okay, we got this, but we're getting some more. We're gonna get a little more open water, we're gonna go absolutely all out."

Aaron: The first day, the heats, the 2V, they had that kind of issue with the foot stretcher or whatever. Were you aware of that or were you already like launched and not aware?

Sophia: Yeah, so we saw them start their race and stop it. We were waiting to line up for our race, so we were a little freaked out. We were worried that something happened, but we were sitting there and the officials were telling everyone what to do. We figured that they were all okay, the rowers, you know, they were in good spirits, they really handled it like champions, and I think that reassured us that it was going to be okay. We were going to do it. Some of them told us after the race that when they were able to watch our race go down, it gave them that little confidence boost that it was going to be okay. We were going to do it.

Aaron: All the delays throughout this, both days really, I mean really yesterday, how did you handle that?

Sophia: Honestly, we just handled it. We were used to being flexible. We like to say we wear our flexibility trousers and we certainly did. Each time we got out here and thought we were going to race, we got ready, we got hyped, and then if they pushed the time back, we said, "Okay, we'll chill out again and get hyped when the time comes."

Aaron: So obviously it wasn't a problem, but have you ever experienced anything like that before?

Sophia: You know, racing is always variable. There's always weather, there's always something and we hadn't experienced this kind of issue before, but we had our last championship race in the pouring rain and cold. Really, I think at this point, we could handle anything.

Aaron: So you're the only senior in the 1V, but there are obviously seniors in the 2V so as a senior class, how special is this to cap things off like this?

Sophia: It's really special. I think the four of us rowing in these boats today, seniors, feel like we did it, we got the job done and it's a good way to go out and leave. Feel really excited for all the others who are going to go do this again for another one, two or three years.

Aaron: Stay with throughout the summer for more updates in Bates athletics. The Bobcast will return in the fall. Thanks for tuning in all school year to the Bates Bobcast!