LYME/OLD LYME — The Lyme-Old Lyme High School Rowing Program, combined with the Old Lyme Rowing Association’s Blood Street Sculls, is sending five of its athletes to row at Division 1 colleges next fall.
The high school graduates will be rowing at Boston College, Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT and Villanova University in Villanova, PA. A fifth, Delaney Gagnon, will be a coxswain – the person responsible for steering the boat — at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI.
Three of the rowers – Victoria Stout, McLean Signora and Jennie Sherwood — also received scholarships to attend.
Coach Paul Fuchs said that having that number of athletes attend D1 schools is striking for a rowing program as small as Old Lyme’s, and a testament to the program’s strength. Division 1 is the highest level of competition sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA.
Fuchs said he had 30 girls in the program this year, ten of whom were seniors.
“I’ve never had this many people,” said Fuchs.
Senior McLean Signora, who plans to row at Sacred Heart University next year, said she started rowing her first year of high school on a bet with one of her friends.
“Her parents wanted her to do it. She didn’t want to do it alone,” said Signora. “So I said, ‘You know what, I’ll do one season.’ And yeah, that was freshman year. Flash forward to junior year and I quit all my other sports and I was rowing year round.”
Another senior, Victoria Stout, also started rowing her first year of high school, spurred on by a girl in her dance class who was also a coxswain. She remembers snow and freezing cold temperatures in April.
“It was probably the worst weather ever,” she said.
This year’s group of seniors also faced the unprecedented challenge of training for what some have called “the ultimate team sport” while staying physically separated.
But Signora said that rowing was actually one place where they were able to quickly return to some semblance of normal after the pandemic hit. In the fall of 2020, when Stout and Signora were starting their junior year, the girls went out in one-person boats, called “singles” rather than in the traditional long boats that fit four to eight girls each. She said they spent most of their time racing one another and preparing for when they could go back to rowing in larger boats and competing against other schools.
“They needed to get out of the house,” said Fuchs. “Their parents needed them out of the house.”
Despite the challenges, Stout said that she felt her class, the class of 2022, took the sport seriously from the beginning. She pointed out the camaraderie that goes with spending four seasons of the year training with the same people.
“I feel like I really row for the other people in my boat,” she said. “All these girls are my friends.”
The girls finished out their year with a strong showing at the State Championship, winning the trophy for overall best performance in the Girl’s Four boat category, after winning two first places and one second place in their races. They also took home best overall performance in the Four Boat category, combined with the boys’ team.
Ali Kyle, a senior who rows stroke — the first person in the boat, responsible for setting the pace — echoed the importance of having a strong team spirit.
“If there’s a flawed dynamic in the boat, it doesn’t work,” she said.
Kyle, who will be attending Yale in the fall, said she doesn’t plan to row in college. She said that while she could have rowed as a lightweight at Princeton, she ultimately decided it wasn’t the right place for her.
“I’ve just been around Yale for a long time,” said Kyle, who said she’s interested in ethics, political science and economics.
Stout said she chose Marist because of its fashion program. Originally, she said, she hadn’t planned on rowing in college, but changed her mind the summer before her senior year. She said she has already spoken to the crew coach at the college, whom she characterized as both funny and open.
Signora, too, has already met her future coach and said that her future teammates at Sacred Heart seem very supportive. Still, she’s apprehensive about the transition to a college schedule.
“I’ll hopefully be able to handle it all, but yeah, I’m very scared for sure,” she said.
Like Stout, she wasn’t initially convinced that she wanted to keep participating in crew. But then, she got to the end of her senior year and it dawned on her that her career on the water was about to end. She realized that she couldn’t imagine not rowing.
“It’s such an integral part of my life,” she said.