After the MAAC stopped funding men’s crew in 2016, many worried about the future of the highly successful Marist program. Upon leaving the MAAC, Marist has quickly risen in the rankings from 63rd to 24th, as their success has continued despite not having in conference competition. The team’s continued success has demonstrated that they are still a force to be reckoned with, despite being mostly made up of walk-ons, and no longer being a part of the MAAC.
“There’s some discussion in the past year with the pressures of COVID-19, and with some teams getting cut. There’s been some talk within men’s rowing about maybe it being time to become a part of the NCAA, but there’s plenty of politics that could prevent it from happening,” said the men’s rowing head coach Campbell Woods.
Political pressure and consequences resulting from the global pandemic could change the way men’s rowing looks in the future, but for now, things appear to be on schedule as usual. As for the MAAC stopping the funding of men’s crew, effects have been very minimal on Marist’s men’s crew team. “From Marist’s perspective nothing has changed, as our goals were always kind of beyond the MAAC Championship and have been more so on if we can get this team to a National Championship,” said Woods.
With the MAAC tournament not serving as a qualifying event, it’s not a huge loss for them performance-wise. This was just another tournament for them to compete in, and it didn’t really affect their standing competitively. However, the loss of the MAAC tournament does have consequences, particularly administratively. Since the administrative office previously would gauge how the team would be doing based on conference play and standings, it has become a little more difficult to evaluate them over recent years, especially if the team doesn’t come out victorious as the national champion.
Despite being part of the MAAC, Marist had always been a member of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association. The IRA is the rowing equivalent to the NCAA, but only encompasses rowing, and it’s actually the oldest intercollegiate association in the country. Before 2016, Marist would take part in the MAAC tournament annually, while also competing in the IRA, with these games serving as the qualifier for the National Championship.
As for the way the team is currently shaped, high school rowing is hard to come by in the United States. So, while Marist does do recruiting, bringing in walk-ons is a necessity. Many of the walk-ons that Marist gains are students who were athletes in high school but did not have a crew team in high school, making the Marist rowing team their first opportunity to try it out. “The type of program Marist is within the collegiate rowing scene, while we are a very good team, we are not so good that we are recruiting 10 to 15 of the best rowers in the country every year. So the kids we are recruiting and the kids we bring in as walk-ons are being developed at Marist,” said Woods.
“It’s important to point out that just because we have a lot of walk-ons, does not mean that we keep everyone, because a lot of people are cut from the team,” said Tom Nalis, a senior on the Marist crew team. “The coaches cut the people who they don’t believe will be able to handle the intensity of the workouts or the travel because it’s really important for us to get the right guys who will be invested in the team as much as possible and who will make us the best we can be.”
Nalis serves as a leader for the Red Foxes. His favorite part about crew is that there is not one player who dominates, which makes it unlike any other sport. Crew is very much a team effort because every individual needs to work hard and train just as much as the rest of the team because, if one person slacks, then the whole team will suffer. This camaraderie is one of the main things that Nalis and the coaching staff contributes to the team’s success. “We are like a family, and we hang out together all the time, and rarely see anyone else,” Nalis said. “It’s because of that, that we’ve built such a bond, and the reason that walk-ons are so welcomed to the team, as we always try to make them feel like an immediate part of the family.”
The mainly walk-on Marist team has gained quite a reputation, as they have continued to rise in the rankings. This not only contributed to the close-knit group the team has, but also has a lot to do with the unorthodox approach that the team employs. “We only practice in the morning, where most of our competition practices twice a day and usually has much more reinforced coaching,” said Woods. “Part of what’s special at our program is that at least 50 percent of the training that gets done is in the athletes’ own time, and is worked around their own schedules, which puts the onus on the athletes themselves to get the work done.”
Unlike other programs, the unorthodox approach Woods employs for his team allows for the players to essentially have a large amount of control over how the team performs. Not only are they the ones going out and performing, but with half of the training being done on their own, players can decide how much work they are willing to put in. This is a risky approach, especially in a sport so reliant on the team as a whole. If any of the athletes slacks in their own solo training, then the whole team will be negatively affected. Despite the risk, the approach has proven to be successful. The players respect the freedom to work on their own, as they are able to better balance their coursework with their training.
Clearly, despite the recent disconnection from the MAAC, the walk-on heavy team seemingly has made itself a perennial threat in the IRA. Despite the complications that have arisen as a result of the pandemic, the development of the rowers combined with the team’s chemistry has led the team to become an annual contender in the very competitive men’s rowing landscape.
Edited by Connor Kurpat and Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Marist Athletics