Wellesley Wins NCAA DIII National Rowing Championship, Becomes First Women’s College to Win a National Championship in Rowing

June 1, 2016
Wellesley Crew athletes lift their NCAA National Championship trophy

Last Friday, while Wellesley celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2016, the College's crew team was in Gold River, Calif., preparing for the opening day of the NCAA Division III Women's Rowing National Championship on Lake Natoma. Within hours, they had raced to victory alongside their teammates in their Varsity Eight and Second Varsity Eight heats, beating teams from across the nation, including 2015 national champion Bates and perennial contender Williams to advance to the Grand Final in both events.

The next day, Blue crew used a gold medal finish in the Varsity Eight Grand Final and a silver medal finish in the Second Varsity Eight Grand Final to win the program's first NCAA National Championship. With the victory, Blue crew also claimed the first NCAA team national championship in the College's history and gave Wellesley the honor of being the first Women’s College to win a national title in rowing. This was crew’s seventh consecutive trip to the championships, their previous best was a third place finish in 2015.

"Blue Nation is proud of this team and its historic victory," said Athletic Director and Chair of the PERA Department Bridget Belgiovine. "This group of seniors came into a strong program, committed to making their mark with the program’s first team championship. It certainly cements their legacy as rowers at Wellesley. The leadership, passion and commitment to excellence exhibited by Head Coach Tessa Spillane and her staff is exemplary!"

Spillane echoed the praise for the team. "They're amazing, the entire team. Top to bottom, they earned it," she said. "They've just worked really hard together all year."

The night of the championship, Spillane and assistants Seth Hussey and Hannah Woodruff held a special graduation ceremony for the team. Nearly eighty parents and friends attended to honor the seven seniors: Sydney Dollmeyer '16, Grace Howland '16, Sahar Ibrahim '16, Loren Lock '16 (a 2015 All-American), Megan Roberts '16 (2016 NEWMAC Rower of the Year), Olivia Thayer '16, and Alessandra Zaldivar-Giuffredi '16.

Each graduate received a student-athlete stole, embroidered with the words "SCHOLAR ATHLETE," the Wellesley athletics logo, and the crew symbol, a diploma case, commencement program, red rose, and a flash drive with a slideshow of photos from the athletics department, as well as a Friends of Athletics pen.

Toward the end of the event, Ibrahim, an anthropology major, took the microphone to share her thoughts about the championship and the closeness of the team. "This experience with all of you has been transformative," she said.

Roberts, an economics and French cultural studies double major, said the victory was deeply meaningful because it demonstrated the team’s “pride in what we do and the work we put in, and faith that it would pay off.”

For Thayer, a history major, “It means four years of very hard work that have finally paid off,” she said. “And not just four years, but an entire legacy of Wellesley crew. We could not have been in this moment without every single alum that has sat in a Wellesley boat.”

The team also wanted to recognize teammates Emily Ahn '16, Alexi Block Gorman, '16, Nina McKee '16, Sally Ruderman '16, and Charlotte Weiss '16, who graduated on campus.

"I have loved being their coach," Spillane said. "I have loved watching them become the tremendous young women that they are, have loved watching them lead their team, strive for excellence in all areas and then actually reach the pinnacle of DIII rowing. What a legacy."