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A tough, resilient crew

The women’s rowing team has set its sights on winning a third consecutive Colonial Athletic Association title this spring and improving its performance in the NCAA championship. We asked head coach Joe Wilhelm to discuss the Huskies’ preparation for the spring season, which begins Saturday with the annual Beanpot regatta, and the team’s defining characteristics.

The team ended the fall season with a strong showing at the Foot of the Charles, with the varsity eight capturing first place for the second straight season. What’s been the focus since then heading into the spring?

We raced well at the Foot of Charles. I think the results showed the hard work that went into it. Fall results show some potential and that you’re on the right track, but the spring is a whole different season. One of the things I told the team after the fall season is that it was just a first step, and that we need to continue to train at a high level and increase our strength and fitness levels this spring.

The team recently went to Sarasota, Florida, to train during spring break. What makes this experience so important to the team?

You can never tell in Boston whether the Charles River is going to be thawed in time for spring break. It’s really important for us to get on the water. Throughout the spring we’re going to be racing crews that are in warmer climates and spend more time rowing during the winter than we can. Our goal with our spring training camp in Florida is to spend as much time rowing as we can and turn all that fitness and strength we’ve gained over the winter into boat speed.

The spring season kicks off this weekend with the Beanpot. How are you approaching this regatta?

It’s the first race of the spring season, so we tend to focus on preparing to race and how we’re going to execute our race plan and how we’re going to manage race day. We’re not as focused on the results right now as we are just going as fast we can go. Now having said that, every time you get to the starting line you want to win. Our athletes are highly competitive young women. And this is a rivalry week and it’s every crew we see out on the river [referring to BC, BU, Harvard, and MIT, which all share the Charles River as their home course]. What’s unique about our sport is that every day in practice we see the crews we’re going to race against. We don’t work with them, but we see them. We use the same body of water for practice. This is for bragging rights. In that way, I don’t really feel like I have to do much to motivate the crew. It’s important to them.

The team has captured the CAA title each of the past two years and five times since 2009. What are the team’s goals headed into the spring season?

Our goal is to win the conference championship again and get to the NCAAs and improve where we finished last year. We don’t have control over everything, but what we can control is how we prepare. I believe you finish exactly where you prepare to finish. The results at the end of the season are a reflection of how we prepared, and so far this crew has trained and prepared as well as any crew I’ve ever coached. We have very high expectations for the spring season.

You mentioned how well this crew has trained. What would you say defines this team as a unit?

I go back to last season right after the NCAAs, when we elected our two captains for this season: senior Katie O’Connell and junior Maggie Walsh. They met with the coaching staff and said that we feel as a team we want to do more. We want to meet our goals in the NCAAs, and we want you to challenge us more and spend more time training. This is music to a coach’s ears. One of the things that we take very seriously across Northeastern athletics is the balance between academics and athletics and making sure the two go hand-in-hand and that we’re supporting their academic endeavors. Both of these captains are honors students. Our GPA this fall was as high as it’s ever been, and they fully embraced the whole concept.

What are the team’s great strengths?

This team has shown great resilience and toughness. Overall, I also think we have more depth than we’ve ever had. Every member of the team is rowing at a high level right now.