SPS Today: Conquering Henley

Michael Matros

For girls crew, the Henley title is the crowning achievement of a winning season.

For girls crew, the Henley title is the crowning achievement of a winning season.

With a blistering start off the line, then a rate almost three strokes per minute above typical pace, the SPS girls first eight won the 2019 Peabody Cup at the Henley Women’s Regatta on England’s Thames River. It was 2001 when the St. Paul’s girls last won in Henley’s junior eights category. Last year, they lost in a photo finish. The 2019 season featured tremendous success for the three girls eights. At New Englands in May, the first boat took gold, while the second and third eights earned silver. Together they secured the team trophy, their second in the last three years.

Then, before heading across the Atlantic for Henley, the girls first eight and a four traveled to Florida for the USRowing Youth National Championships, the premier event for young school and club rowers, where the eight placed 14th overall, fourth among schools. After arrival in England in preparation for Henley, the eight participated in the Reading Amateur Regatta, winning their category by three boat lengths and recording the fastest time of all the eights on the water that day. Then, some 15 kilometers downriver a few days later, the Henley Women’s Regatta welcomed the SPS girls eight and four.

It was a “remarkable group of competitors,” says Michael Spencer, vice rector for faculty and girls crew coach, describing how the first eight not only finished the regular season undefeated, but also won New Englands, Reading, and Henley. Success at Henley came, in part, Spencer explains, from the eight’s experience at nationals, where the course runs 2,000 meters, rather than the 1,500 common in the regular season. The required extra stamina in Florida prepared the girls for the higher stroke rate at Henley.

“They came off the line with a faster rate than I’d ever seen from them,” Spencer says, “then settled into a base rate that was higher than what would have been their sprint rate from earlier in the season. That’s why they were able to finish two seconds off the course record.”

Assistant coach Deborah Vo was no small part of the winning season, Spencer points out. But the continued success of girls crew at St. Paul’s, he explains, derives in great part from core values more than specific goals. “I never say to them our goal is to win New Englands,” he says, describing a preseason process in which the girls create their own values document. “What I talk about is core values. Then, whatever the outcome at the end of the season, if we’ve lived into our core values, then that’s success.”

Ultimately, Spencer identifies the program’s primary goal as “cultivating strong, powerful women in and out of the boat. This crew embodies that incredible group of strong, powerful women, who will do well from what they’ve learned not just in rowing, but in life.”

St Paul's School