When Harvard men’s lightweight coach Billy Boyce took the helm at Newell Boathouse two years ago, he expressed his excitement at the prospect of coaching the team, which under previous head coach Michiel Bartman had finished sixth at the IRA national championships in 2016.
“I am thrilled to make my return to lightweight rowing and in particular, the chance to work with Harvard varsity lightweights," said Boyce in an interview with GoCrimson.com. "This is a special league and I look forward to starting the season and building a championship-caliber team.”
Boyce has done just that, cultivating and developing a strong lightweight crew team that for a significant portion of the season sat atop the rankings. Now, the men’s lightweight crew looks to the IRA National Championships at Mercer Lake, N.J., from June 1-3, where it captured the overall team points title last year.
Prior to coaching the lightweight crew, Boyce spent five years as a coach for the heavyweight crew team. In his final year, he led the second boat to a national title. Junior David Wexner said that Boyce’s experience with the heavyweight team helped to enhance his work with the lightweight crew.
“I think when he first came over, he did a really great job talking it out with a few of the older guys on the lightweight team, talking to a few of the guys on the heavyweight team as well and seeing what was different between the programs and why and how to bring them together to continue the good stuff that the lightweight program was doing and to start adding a bit more of what was working with the heavyweights as well,” Wexner said. “I think good communication has really been great.”
Before Harvard, Boyce coached for Ancient Eight rival Yale for two years. Boyce has his own taste for gold. At Cornell, Boyce was a three-year letterwinner and was named a first-team All-Ivy rower in 2008. As a rower in the sixth seat for Cornell’s lightweight eight, Boyce contributed to the boat’s first place finish at Eastern Sprints and the IRA National Championship.
“I think he understands what it takes in the lightweight league to produce really fast boats having been part of that,” Wexner said. “So he’s the right man for the job to show us how to do that as well.”
Senior captain Andre Dupuis said that Boyce’s experience demonstrates his knowledge about the technicalities of the sport.
“He has a lot of experience working with the heavyweights and working under these legendary coaches and has amassed a lot of knowledge on the sport and on the mechanics of the stroke,” Dupuis said. “I think it’s been really fantastic how’s he brought that knowledge and mixed in his own experience, so for us, over the course of my four years, I’ve seen a lot of change in how HVL is run, how we examine our rowing, and I think Billy has brought a nice, really easy to follow perspective.”
The coach has brought that same competitive spirit to Harvard lightweight, which swept through eight consecutive wins, taking down formidable opponents such as Cornell, Penn, and Columbia, before falling to Yale and Princeton on April 28. After a fourth-place finish at Eastern Sprints, in which the team fell to both Columbia and Penn, the crew looks to rebound in the IRA National Championships.
For assistant coach Ian Accomando, Boyce’s competitive spirit is what drives the lightweight crew team towards a national title.
“They key off of Coach’s Boyce’s competitive spirit,” Accomando said. “There’s no exception this year that we were very competitive internally so we could be as competitive as possible against Yale, against Princeton, and against the rest of the league.”
For Sean Hayes, who sat fourth seat in the first varsity eight at the Eastern Sprints Championships, Boyce’s strengths as a coach were made very clear on a recruiting trip in the fall of 2016. The Greenwich, Conn., native remembers sitting with his future coach on the launch and discussing Boyce’s plan for the upcoming season, which would be his first as head coach.
“When I was on my official visits during the recruiting process, I vividly remember sitting on the launch with Billy and him just laying out this whole, incredibly detailed description of the system that he planned on implementing right off the bat his first season,” Hayes said.
This plan involved implementing a ladder to rank the rowers in order to foster a healthy sense of both competition and camaraderie within Newell Boathouse.
“Hearing this so matter of factly from him and how confident he was in what he was saying, there was not a doubt in my mind that everything that he said would be manifested in the team, and obviously that showed that year,” Hayes said.
After a fourth-place finish at Eastern Sprints, the lightweight crew looks to mix up the lineups, which Wexner said displays Boyce’s ability to adapt to different circumstances.
“What I think what’s helpful throughout the season is he’s receptive to what’s going on, tracking things day to day and race to race and trying to keep on building, so in these few weeks especially, we’re mixing up the training more than ever, so trying to get some new stuff going, and trying not to stagnate really,” Wexner said.
For Boyce’s crew, that plan has truly manifested itself into a successful crew team which looks to capture that heavily sought-after title on Mercer Lake in early June.
—Staff writer Leon K. Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.