Rowing Sets Sights on the Spring


Zoom meetings are just one way the rowing team stayed connected with one another in the time away from competition. (Courtesy of Instagram)

This year is a mix of new and old for Fordham Women’s Rowing. Head coach Ted Bonanno retired after 31 years with the program. A leadership change can shift an entire team, but that is not necessarily the case at Fordham. Taking on the role is Jenn Thomas, who joined the program as a volunteer in 2018, an assistant in 2019, and now is head coach in 2021.

Joining Thomas is a group of familiar faces, as women’s rowing — the largest female team on campus — brings back an astonishing 15 seniors, four fifth-year students and one graduate student. That level of consistency is crucial in any year, but particularly so in one like this, which is set to begin on April 10 against College of the Holy Cross.

For her years of familiarity in the program, Thomas is still adjusting to the new role. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” she said. And how could it, as the team only moved in on Jan. 29, one of the last to do so on-campus, and held its first group practice on Feb. 1.

Even then, the definition of a group has changed as well. Since the fall, the team has split into two groups, sharing time between the land and the water. The hope was for the team to start rowing in smaller boats this February and transition to a full squad practice in March. That has, of course, been put on hold due to the recent university shutdown.

Despite that, Fordham Women’s Rowing rolls on, in no small part due to the work of this year’s captains, fifth-year student Erika Selakowski and senior Sophia Singh. Selakowski is no stranger to the role, now in her second consecutive season as captain, and is “close to single-handedly responsible for the team culture,” said Coach Thomas.

That culture has been heightened by Singh. “Sophie has been phenomenal,” said Thomas. “It’s been really awesome to see the two of them working together.”

This leadership has meant much to the younger rowers, including sophomore Emily Buccholz. “They have truly done this with so much grace. Whenever there is a question, it is answered immediately; they are both so available and want to help the girls on the team … I am so grateful to have them both as role models this year to help us through the pandemic.”

At the same time, with a group of so many experienced rowers, leadership stretches beyond just the two captains. “We’ve been so lucky with the amount of leadership positions that don’t get that captain name but are still a part of it every single day,” Thomas declared. 

One example is fifth-year rower Danae Ohresser-Joumard, who Thomas referred to as “such a unit on this team now for four and a half years.”

And the exciting aspect of the upcoming spring is merely having everyone back again. That includes those who were away from the campus in the fall, like senior Anna Grace Cole.

It feels great to be back with the team again,” said Cole, whose home is in Nashville, Tennessee. But that time away from the team did not mean a loss of motivation. “Everyone is still very encouraged to put in hard work and succeed in competitions this season. Perhaps even more so given the fact that it has been almost a year and a half since our last race.”

And the time at home was ripe for growth as well. “Being at home last semester definitely put me in a different landscape to navigate in terms of being a leader.”

A similar theme was mentioned by Thomas, who when asked about the team’s attitude over the fall, said, “I think everyone has kind of evaluated their position on the team and how they can be not necessarily a faster rower but a better teammate and more present for their teammates.”

One rower who knows the importance of teammates first-hand is Hanna Decker. Originally entering the team as a walk-on, Decker dealt with similar experiences of uncertainty similar to that of many of the current rowers. “[A]djusting to the team was definitely overwhelming at first … However, the transition to Division I athletics as well as learning the fundamentals of rowing was more daunting,” said Decker about her freshman season.

“I think our underclassmen have done a great job of staying positive and adapting to the challenging situation we have been faced with … Overall, I am really proud of our team for everything we have been able to do and the friendships we have been able to build and maintain in spite of the pandemic and our lack of racing,” she expanded.

Those types of connections came through Zoom meetings, team practices and the limited in-person connection that was allowed. “Team culture is always the number one thing for me as a coach in every coaching position I’ve ever had, and I think unfortunately that didn’t get the recognition it needed in the fall,” said Thomas.

She hopes to make it more of a focus in the spring, through hikes on Saturday practices or whenever the opportunity to row together arises. Specifically for Thomas, she has opened her doors to more one-on-one meetings. “It’s just having that availability that I think has been the biggest thing,” she said.

And the rowers have been appreciative of the team’s efforts to stay connected. “Nothing can truly make up for our usual in-person meetings and practices but what we have accomplished so far has definitely allowed us to still feel as though we are part of a team,” said Decker.

But in this year away from the water, one thing has not been taken away. “We also love lift on this team … Everyone looks forward to lift so that’s been really great to still have that and still be able to get together in the afternoons and listen to music really loudly,” said Thomas.

Another big part of that culture is the “Big” and “Little” program. Cole referenced this, saying, “Even from afar, as was the case with me, I was able to get to know someone on the team that I hadn’t met in person yet.”

Decker also commented on the significance of this program. “This year that has been especially important in making sure that everyone knows they have someone to reach out to for anything and everything, whether it be a big, a captain or a coach. 

The coaching staff has now grown with the addition of Catarina Thomas. “Having two young females at the helm of the largest women’s team on campus is going to be really great as well.”

Thomas has a particular benefit due to the bonds she has already built with the rowers on this team. “They’re going to feel really supported from a head coach,” she said.

A key element of that is the team’s mental health, something embraced by the entire Athletic Department. “Winning is fun and great and that’s always our goal — but is keeping everyone in a good spot mentally is the number one priority so I think that relationship I’ve developed with them over the last few years is going to be even more critical,” said Thomas.

And some of the rowers have tapped into this themselves. Buccholz has brought daily meditation into her new training routine. “Since we haven’t had the opportunity to row together this has been a great experience to reflect and think about what rowing means to me. Personally, rowing consists of constantly improving and working towards a goal with my best friends who always support me … The dedication shown by my teammates inspires me to continue to put forth my best throughout all of the unknowns.”

As the team hopes to overcome its time away from the water and each other, attention shifts to the spring season ahead. Typically, rowing has a tune-up in the fall for the full Atlantic 10 campaign in the spring. That of course isn’t the case this year.

Instead, rowing comes out of the gates on April 10 and faces another A-10 opponent in Bucknell University on May 1. Offsetting those are the Jesuit Invitational on April 17 and what Thomas called the most volatile race on the schedule, the Dad Vail Championships on the weekend of May 7. If it happens though, Fordham will be there. All of this is a preview for the A-10 Championships on May 15, where Fordham last finished in a tie for third in 2019.

This is an entirely new season, though, one that the team just cannot wait to start. “I’m counting down the days until we get to head to stake boats for our races. The reason why I love rowing so much is definitely the feeling that comes during a great race even after eight years the excitement doesn’t dull,” said Cole.

Buccholz reflects on her limited experience last season as motivation for what’s ahead. “The ability for us to come together as a team and work together was thrilling, the feeling of crossing the finish line with my teammates is what motivates me now.”

The Rams are hoping for plenty of that feeling this season.