May 1, 2007
The following story appeared in the New Haven Register on Saturday, April 28, the day Yale raced Brown and Tennessee
By Sean O'Rourke
College Sports Editor
DERBY -- Rarely does a coach concede he or she is a better coach because of an athlete's persona. But that's exactly what Will Porter, one of the nation's top rowing coaches, did when talking about Rachel Jeffers, his Yale women's crew captain.
"Rachel is such a positive person that she's made me a better coach," Porter said. "Our sport can be grueling, but she loves what she's doing. There are no negative emotions from her."
On top of that is the fact Jeffers is a big reason Porter's program has remained a national power the last four years. She has been a member of Yale's varsity eight boat since her freshman year in 2004 and has been part of three straight NCAA crews, an impressive accomplishment when you consider the NCAA women's rowing championship field includes just 12 out of 86 Division I schools.
This year, Jeffers has moved into Yale's stroke seat on the varsity eight. The Bulldogs, currently ranked fourth nationally, have responded to Jeffers' leadership with an unbeaten record.
It's a streak the varsity eight puts on the line today at noon against No. 2 Brown and No. 10 Tennessee on the Housatonic River, with the finish line at Gilder Boathouse.
"The stroke seat is a leadership seat," Porter said. "You want that person to be your best because everyone behind her has to follow. She sets it up."
Jeffers is a two-time All-America selection who was part of the United States national eight team that won a silver medal in last year's World Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland. A hopeful for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, Jeffers brought her experience from the international competition last summer back to a Yale team that has visions of winning a national championship the weekend of May 25-27 on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
"She's a quiet leader that people aspire to be," said freshman Tess Gerrand. "I sit behind her in the seventh seat and I completely trust her."
Gerrand hails from New South Wales, Australia, and is one of three freshmen on the varsity eight, something that might figure to hinder Yale.
"She does the small things to make her teammates feel at ease, whether it's decorating a locker before a race or being conscious of her teammates' birthdays," Porter said. "On some teams there is division between upperclassmen and the younger kids, but there is no division on our team. Rachel is a big reason for that.
"Not only is she the best athletes I've ever coached but she's one of the best people I've ever coached."
Jeffers down-plays her efforts to make a freshman feel at home, stating she is simply reciprocating what was done for her when she arrived at Yale as a freshman from Los Gatos, Calif. At that time she joined her older sister, Emily, at Yale.
Jeffers said having a young team with only four seniors makes it more cohesive for success.
"We have a lot of young athletes so there's not a lot of issues," Jeffers said. "We're able to focus on team speed."
Emily Jeffers rowed her first two years for Porter's team before injuries kept her sidelined prior to graduating in 2004.
"I visited her a lot and became comfortable with the school and the team," Rachel Jeffers said. "I liked Yale a lot. I liked Coach Porter, the program and I liked the diversity of the campus."
Yale has had a fantastic first five weekends of the season and will be tested today by Tennessee and Brown, who the Bulldogs rank behind in the NCAA's New England poll. While the early season success is certainly a plus, Jeffers said the goal is to peak at the Eastern Sprints in Camden, N.J. May 13.
Yale finished third at the Eastern Sprints last year after winning in 2005. A victory or finishing higher than Brown would secure the Bulldogs an automatic berth as the top ranked team from the New England region.
So just how good is Yale this year?
"We don't know until we test ourselves, but we're just focused on making ourselves go fast right now," Jeffers said. "Today is a test but it's really just another day of Yale rowing."
Yale crew won an unofficial national championship in 1979 -- the NCAA didn't consider rowing a team sport until 1996. Yale's best finish since was second at the 2004 NCAA championships in Sacramento, Calif.
"This varsity eight is as strong as any crew I've ever coached," said Porter, in his seventh season as head coach. "Can we win it all? Sure...if any team can do it, this team can."
And leading the way, in the stroke position, will be Rachel Jeffers.
Sean O'Rourke can be reached at email@example.com.