While the crew members of Manhattan College’s women’s rowing team may sit with their backs to the bow as they race across the water, the team is only looking to continue to move in one direction this spring—forward.
Last May, it was announced that the team was to be promoted from club level to a Division 1 program, replacing women’s tennis as one of the 19 NCAA Division 1 athletic programs at the college.
“When we first became Division 1, the girls who were already on the team—there were like four or five of us—initially were just so excited,” junior Lorraine Piccorelli, a mechanical engineering major and one of the captains on the team, said.
“Now the returning members have definitely risen to the challenge. They realize that it’s a bigger commitment; it’s more serious now. The intensity level has definitely gone up since we were named Division 1.”
Piccorelli joined the women’s rowing club team her freshman year without any prior experience in the sport. Now she is one of the captains responsible for leading a Division 1 team with a roster that is 30 members strong.
“I wanted to go to college and try something new,” she said. “I never expected that becoming a Division 1 athlete would be that something new—but it’s a good surprise.”
Even many of the new members on the team who were never part of the club did not expect to have an intercollegiate athletic career during their time at Manhattan College.
With just a few months before the season began, the team’s head coach James Foley did not have much of chance to scout and recruit potential athletes like most coaches looking to fill their rosters.
Instead, he relied on the existing members of the team to reach out to their peers and utilize on-campus events such as the open house and activities fair.
Like Piccorelli, freshman computer information systems major Alexandra Polla was not planning on becoming a Division 1 athlete when she was graduating high school. But when she saw a post in the Manhattan College Class of 2019 Facebook group announcing that the newly minted team was looking for members, she was interested in learning more about the program.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh that seems cool. I’m short, they could use a coxswain,’ Polla said. “But I was hesitant at first.”
However, after learning more about the program she signed up for the practices, workouts, several meets a semester, and the other responsibilities that come with being a collegiate athlete.
As a club, the team would practice on the water sporadically when they had enough bodies to pack a boat, often relying on male rowers to fill in the empty spots.
“At the club level, it was when people showed up,” Foley said.
Now, the team has practice scheduled five days of week, with every team member expected to attend.
The team has also moved from their old boathouse in Harlem to one in Overpeck, N.J., because of space issues—another one of the changes that has come with the promotion in competition level and related increase in the size of the rowing program.
Last semester, practices began at 5:30 in the morning. Now that the team members have athlete priority registration and the ability to secure later class times, practices won’t be as early.
The team also was able to secure a new women’s eight boat in the fall, one of the first new vessels for the program in several years, according to Foley.
While the men’s team is still currently at the club level, the hope is for it to eventually make the jump to Division 1 as well, a change based on funding availability.
In the meantime, however, the team has also seen an increase in competition and success at its own club level.
“The men’s club gets better as the women’s team goes Division 1,” Foley said.
During its first meets this past fall, the women’s team was able to place as high as second and third in some races.
“We were way more competitive this year than we have ever been, mainly because of the new talent that came to the team,” Piccorelli said.
“The days of coming in dead last are hopefully over for Manhattan crew,” Foley added.
This spring, the team hopes to continue its strong start, with its first meet of the semester scheduled for April 2 against MAAC opponents Iona, Marist and Fairfield.
To prepare in the weeks to come, the team will continue training both in the gym and on the water. While it certainly takes a special kind of athlete to brave the cold temperatures and early workouts, Foley and the team are always looking for interested prospective members that are up to the challenge.