July 18, 2006
Periodically during the season last spring, members of the Yale women's crew team would gather before practice to watch tape of national team races. The sessions were meant to give the rowers a sense of what the drill they were going to work on that day looked like when it was done correctly.
Next year, Yale's rowers may get to watch one of their very own on video. Rachel Jeffers, a rising senior who will serve as the captain of the 2006-07 Bulldogs, was in the No. 7 seat on the United States eight that won a silver medal, finishing less than one second behind Romania, at the 2006 FISA World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, on July 9.
"It was pretty amazing to be among so many world class athletes, many of whom have gone to multiple Olympics and are really at the top of their game," Jeffers said of the experience. "The site was spectacular - perfect water all of the time and surrounded by the Alps. Since the World Cup races are videotaped, it was neat to think that this was the level of racing that I'd seen at Yale."
Jeffers earned a spot in the boat after spending a month at Princeton, where the national teams train. She was one of 10 "college invites" that joined up with the athletes that train there year round. After many long rows, an erg test and pieces on the water, she was selected to the U.S. eight.
In Lucerne, the U.S. won its heat against Germany and New Zealand to easily advance to the final. The U.S. and Romania waged a tight battle through the midway point of the final, with Romania holding a 0.47-second advantage at the 1,000-meter mark. The Romanians built their advantage to 1.45 seconds during the third quarter of the race before the U.S. made a late charge to cut into the deficit. Romania won the race with a time of 6:12.32, while the U.S. finished in 6:13.27.
"We were interested in getting a clean start off the blocks that wouldn't necessarily put us in the lead but would take us out with the pack," Jeffers said of the race. "We did just that and had the intent of settling to a strong base rhythm that would allow us to inch through the pack. It was a courageous race and an exercise in keeping your cool while going stroke-for-stroke with another fast crew."
Jeffers spent about a week in Lucerne, but a busy schedule didn't allow much time for sightseeing.
"We practiced twice a day, so there wasn't too much time to explore the area, but we were able to walk around the town a bit," she said. "The popular `old downtown' part of Lucerne has really thin streets only for pedestrians and a lot of shops. Of course we were able to sample all sorts of Swiss chocolate."
Jeffers has returned to Princeton and is now trying to earn a seat in the straight four that will compete for a spot in the 2006 World Rowing Championships in England in late August. Two other Yalies - Maria Stevens '06 and Amanda Kendrick '05 - are also training with the U.S. national team.
"I think that Yale is one of the most represented schools, so we're all really proud of that," Jeffers said. "It has been great to have them around. We have all rowed together for two or three years so we know each other well."
Said Yale Head Coach Will Porter, "The fact that we have three athletes training with the U.S. team means we are one of the premier collegiate programs in the country. As a program we are identifying talented athletes and developing them properly, which allows them to compete at the very top level of the sport. It is exciting."
Jeffers has had an impact on the Yale crew since the day she arrived in New Haven. As a freshman, she was in the No. 1 seat on the Bulldogs' varsity eight that finished second at the NCAA Championships, and she has been named first team All-America by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association in each of the last two years.
"As a high school athlete, Rachel rowed on the U.S. Junior national team twice, so she came in pretty developed," Porter said. "At Yale she has made the next step which allows her to compete on the Senior National Team and maybe one day the Olympics."
Spending this summer training with the U.S. National team should only further her development.
"Rowing and racing at this level has certainly renewed my passion for the sport," said Jeffers, who started rowing her sophomore year of high school at a club in her hometown of Los Gatos, Calif. "My dad is always telling me that you are only going to be as good at a sport as the people around you, and that motto is in action here. Not only do I feel like am becoming a better rower by being in boats that go so fast, but I am witnessing other athletes' approach to their work. Athletes at this level know that they can have their fun, but it is their responsibility to be ready for practice."
Porter knows the experience will benefit Jeffers but doesn't expect any drastic changes in her personality.
"She should come back to Yale supremely confident," he said, "but I also know Rachel is as humble as they come so she will act like it is no big deal. That is one thing that makes her so great."
Her teammates seemed to recognize that trait as well and elected her captain of the 2006-07 Bulldogs.
"My election as captain means a lot to me because my team means so much to me," Jeffers said. "Leadership is an important factor in our team's performance, and I think that next year we are going to have strong leaders at every level of the program. As a team we are going to come into the season hungry to improve on our 10th place finish at the NCAA Championships, and I am excited to be a positive factor in the upcoming season."
Before she turns her full attention to the 2006-07 Yale season, Jeffers still has more than a month left with the U.S. national team.
"I'm really proud to represent my country, and I feel lucky to be training with world class athletes," she said. "I am learning so much."
Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity