Among the hardware are five NCAA runner-up trophies won in succession by the women’s rowing team from the 2008-09 season through the 2012-13 campaign. 

And they aren’t there by accident.

They are a product of hard work during the offseason that allows both the men’s and women’s teams to be physically ready for the season, even if Mother Nature tries to hold them back. 

“Because of the nature of where we are, and this year is a perfect example, we were very late on the water,” Steenstra said. “It’s very difficult to train that synchronized movement that they need to have, but we simulate it as best we can in our erg room. We have 24 rowing machines and we have them moving together as if they were in a boat.” 

Steenstra said the team didn’t start practicing on the water until last week due to a prolonged winter that’s become the standard in New England. As a result, the Bobcats opted to row in the Murphy Cup in Cherry Hill, N.J., going off of nothing more than offseason training. 

The result was a second-place finish in the Division II/III grand final for the women’s second Varsity 8. The men’s Varsity 8 placed third out of five boats in its heat, with the Varsity 4 taking fourth. This with just half of its roster able to make the last-minute trip. 

Both the men and women tasted victory for the first time this season in Boston on April 4, still without a single practice on the water. The men’s Varsity 8 topped Boston College and Coast Guard in 7 minutes, 28.50 seconds, while the women’s Varsity 8 and 2V8 swept the competition. 

“We work at a level in the offseason that gives us an advantage where we’re just going to be tougher and more resilient regardless of how poor we row,” Steenstra said. “Their fitness is at a place and their power output is at a place where we can still compete with the best programs despite not rowing very cleanly. We get to this point where we’re almost half way through the season and it becomes a matter of fine-tuning the rowing.  If we’re able to win races at this point of the season then we know once we fine-tune things over the next two or three weeks, we’re going to be that much faster.” 

The Bobcats have only recently been able to get on the water, practicing on the Androscoggin River behind Bell Farms in Lewiston. They typically practice in Greene, but that section of the river is still covered in ice, adding to the importance of the offseason workouts. 

“We always say the winter season is when you get all the work done and that decides how well you’re going to do,” senior captain Mallory Ward said. “Yeah, we don’t really get on the water until fairly late, but luckily everyone’s really dedicated and works very hard during the winter season. Especially with no coaches there, the fact that everyone will show up for practice just shows the commitment of every person on this team.” 

Ward is one of four captains — two for both the men’s and women’s teams — who’s tasked with taking command of practice during the winter, when coaches are not allowed to be with the team. That period stretches from the end of October to the start of February. 

The captains have a plan in place. Senior captain Rebecca O’Neil helped design the offseason training program that includes a different workout each day. She said there are usually three or four erg workouts per week, and the rest focuses on cardio and strength straining. 

“It’s just setting down the precedent from the very beginning as soon as October ended,” O’Neil said. “We have to be flexible because in April we might not be out there on the water and how much we put in now will establish where we’ll come out in May. There’s more accountability in the past four years where before doing winter training was viewed as optional and it’s gotten more mandatory since.” 

That dedication in the offseason has paid dividends come championship time. The men’s and women’s Varsity 8 have raced in the grand final of the New England Championships each year since 2007. The women haven’t finished outside the top four during that stretch and have placed second the past six years. The men have finished third four times in the last six years. The men’s 3V8 and both the women’s 2V8 and 3V8 won New Englands last season. 

The Bates women dominated the ECAC Championships last years as its Varsity 8, 2V8, 3V8 and Varsity 4 all took home their first titles in the event. The women’s Varsity 8 hasn’t finished outside the top two since 2010. The men’s Varsity 8 had its best showing in 2012, placing second. 

The success had made everyone, especially the captains, work harder to get the most out their team during the offseason. 

“Every year the captains have ramped up the volume and the intensity and the expectations for those sessions and that allows us to get a level of fitness early in the season,” senior captain Nicholas Flynn said. After that, the coaches are there to tune us up and make lineups and make us go a little bit faster.” 

Steenstra has been a part of it all after taking over the head coaching position in March 2009. The former Ohio State club coach said he was “opportunistic” as the ground work for the program’s success had been planted by former Bates coach Andrew Carter. The captains over the years have played just as big of a role. 

“The captains are key, especially for the offseason training because I’m not allowed to coach during three-and-a-half months of winter,” Steenstra said. “So we never see the team during that time and the captains, they keep the team active and organized and directed in their work.”

If the weather cooperates, the Bobcats will host an invitational and a regatta in the coming weeks. The Bates Invitational takes place on Sunday and the Presidents Cup Regatta follows a week later. From there it’s New Englands on May 2, ECACs on May 10 and the NCAAs for the women May 29-30 in Sacramento, Calif. 

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