Radcliffe Novice Rowers Dominate First Fall Season

Zorigoo Tugsbayar

Freshman Laura Bleeke (far right) and the Radcliffe heavyweight novices started off their first collegiate fall season in peak form, taking down all three of their opponents by margins of at least 14 seconds. The Black and White rookies, who return to action in the spring, come from a variety of rowing backgrounds.

Rowing excellence is not uncommon at Harvard. And this fall, a new crop of oarswomen has swept its way to an undefeated fall season.

The Radcliffe heavyweight crew novices won all three of their races—the Head of the Housatonic, the Green Monster and the Foot of the Charles—outstripping opposing crews by at least 14 seconds in each victory.

“If [our team has] been able to be successful early on, then that sort of sets the standard and sets the bar pretty high,” said Black and White coach Liz O’Leary about the strong fall season.

With the overwhelming success that the newest Radcliffe rowers have seen all season, one might think that the crew is composed entirely of USRowing Junior National Champions with years of experience on the water.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. While there are some on the squad that do have a classic recruited-rower profile, members of the class come from a variety of backgrounds, something O’Leary cites as positive.

“It’s somewhat unusual to have your recruited class have some with a lot of experience and some with not as much, but we’re very confident in our ability to teach people how to row,” O’Leary said.


Laura Bleeke and Erin Slatery, who both began rowing early in high school, followed a more predictable trajectory toward collegiate crew than many of their classmates.

Bleeke, who hails from St. Louis, initially played volleyball because of her six-foot stature but decided to switch to rowing after meeting coaches from the local club.

“I went out to the boathouse and tried [rowing] out sophomore year [of high school],” Bleeke said. “I really liked it and it was a lot of fun.... I’ve been rowing since then.”

Bleeke rowed for the St. Louis Rowing Club for three years before following in her sister Caroline’s footsteps and coming to Harvard.

“The team here is great, [and] the dynamic is awesome,” Bleeke explained. “It’s really competitive and all the girls are really talented so they push you.... You know that they’re trying their hardest, which is really important when you’re rowing.”

Slatery also points to the strong group ethos as one of the most positive aspects of her experience so far with Radcliffe crew.

“[The team is] just so tight off the water and on the water,” Slatery said. “We’re not cliquey, there’s not a lot of drama.... The upperclassmen have been so supportive. They’re our friends; they’re constantly coming up to tell us that we’re fantastic.”

Slatery, a native of the DC area, was a highly-touted recruit and earned many honors from USRowing. She began rowing freshman year of high school but became seriously committed to the sport as a junior when she realized how far she could go with more training.


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