Kelsey Reelick started this spring in the back of the Princeton University women’s open varsity 8, rowing from the bow seat.
But after an opening day loss to Brown, senior star Reelick was moved up to the front of the boat, getting switched to stroke.
“I had never stroked an 8 before; I had trialed there and had done it in practice,” said Reelick, who made her debut in a loss to Virginia on April 5.
“In the Virginia race, I turned to Annie [coxswain Annie Prasad] and said this is my first race at stroke. Every seat is important for different reasons. The bow is more zen; you are in the back and responsible for setting the boat straight. You are separated and not near the yelling. Stroke is more excitable; you are looking at the cox and there are seven girls behind you.”
With Reelick developing a comfort level in her new spot, Princeton righted the ship, going undefeated after the Virginia race and then avenged the Brown defeat in the Ivy championship as the Tigers took the varsity 8 title with a course record performance.
This week, Princeton will look to keep rolling as it competes in the NCAA championships at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis.
As Reelick looks forward to her final college competition, she acknowledges that the boat was steeled by its early struggles.
The first two weeks were rough; it made us more determined,” said Reelick. “Winning is fantastic but losing creates more of a change. We had some changes to make.”
During her rowing career, Reelick has proved that she can deal well with change. After taking up sculling as a teenager in New Zealand, Reelick and her family came back to the U.S. and relocated to Connecticut. As a senior in high school, Reelick went from the GMS Rowing Center to the Connecticut Boat Club (CBC), helping the CBC take first in the USRowing youth nationals in both the women’s 2- and women’s 8+.
“I had never done sweep rowing before; we had a good 2 that was speedy and we had a great 8,” said Reelick. “It was an amazing boat, a boat of superstars.”
A year later, Reelick competed on another amazing boat as she joined the Princeton open program and made a varsity 8 that went undefeated on the way to winning the Eastern Sprints and NCAA titles.
“It was tough,” said Reelick, reflecting on her transition to college rowing. “I do remember that there was a point where I stopped and looked around at the others; we had a big senior class that year and I thought they are just going hard all of the time. The intensity level is accelerated at the college level. I realized that I had to go harder everyday.”
Reelick realizes how lucky she was to be a part of back-to-back championship campaigns.
“I had an undefeated season in my senior year in high school and then as a freshman in college and I thought this is how it goes,” said Reelick.
“We won Easterns, we won NCAAs, and then we went to the Royal Henley. It was a massive year of rowing. It was amazing.”
After a rebuilding year in her sophomore season, Princeton got back on the medal stand last spring, winning the Ivy championships and taking second in the NCAA championship race. A more important development for Reelick in her junior year, was the arrival of her younger sister, Erin, who joined the Tiger program.
“It has been fantastic; we rowed together in my senior year in high school,” said Reelick of her younger sister, who rows on the No. 6 seat for the Princeton varsity 8.
“She was on the CBC 8, that was her first year of rowing. I love having Erin in the boat, she is a fierce competitor. She is also one of my best friends. It is great to have someone in the boathouse and on campus that I can rely on.”
Reelick and her boatmates were primed to compete hard this spring. “We knew there was something to be gained from the loss of 2013,” said Reelick.
“We jumped into the winter with some goals in mind. We had some good Erg (ergometer) scores and were looking to carry that conditioning on to the water.”
In going after its goals this spring, the boat has displayed an ability to learn from its mistakes.
“After each race, we would talk about what we did well and what we would need to build on,” said Reelick.
“Each week we would fix what we did wrong. I have never been on an 8 that has improved so much.”
That improvement was clearly evident at the Ivy regatta on the Cooper River in Pennsauken, N.J. as Princeton got off to fast start in the final and never looked back on the way to victory, clocking a time of 6:15.412 to a set a course record in Ivy and Eastern Sprints competition at the venue.
“It was awesome,” said Reelick. “Going into the race, we knew it was going to be hard. We had pent-up nervous energy and right off the start we were locked into each other. It was interesting to set the record.”
Looking ahead to the NCAAs, Reelick believes Princeton has room for growth. “I think we can go faster; we have some things to work on,” said Reelick.
“We need to work on staying internal. You need to relax and execute. We are working hard to perfect things. Lori makes sure we don’t forget what each of us can do better individually. There is one change that each of us can make to help the boat collectively.”
Reelick is hoping to come full circle, ending her career with an NCAA crown to go with the one she earned in 2011.
“One of the things I remember from the NCAAs freshman year is that I am here now; we have been waiting a year for this race,” said Reelick.
“Throughout this spring, every race has meant a lot. Winning Ivies feels great as a senior and winning a medal at nationals would feel great as a senior.”