July 6, 2016

Stroking Stanford Lightweight Crew to IRA Title, PHS Alumna White Enjoyed Amazing Debut Season


MAKING A SPLASH: Rena White powers through the water this spring in the stroke seat for the Stanford University women’s lightweight varsity 8 during her freshman campaign with the program. Princeton High alumna White led Stanford to an undefeated season and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship. She was named as a first-team All-American and was one of three recipients of Stanford’s Block “S” Outstanding Freshman Female Athlete Award. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Joining the Princeton National Rowing Association (PNRA)/Mercer Rowing program as an 8th grader in 2010, Rena White emerged as a star for the club and set her sights on competing in college crew.

By the time she was midway through her junior year at Princeton High in 2013-14, White was deeply involved in the recruiting process, focused on joining one of the east coast powers in the sport.

But after competing in the Youth Nationals in Sacramento, Calif. in her junior year at PHS, everything changed for White when she visited Stanford University on the trip.

It was love at first sight for White. “I think it was the overall impressiveness of everything they had,” said White, recalling her initial impressions of Stanford. “It was more a gut feeling that it was where I should I go.”

White ended up committing to Stanford and matriculated there last fall. She went on to produce an extremely impressive freshman year, moving into the stroke seat for the women’s lightweight varsity 8 and helping the Cardinals to an undefeated season and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship. After the season, White was named as a first-team All-American and was chosen as one of three recipients of Stanford’s Block “S” Outstanding Freshman Female Athlete Award.

While things ended up well, White acknowledged that her freshman year wasn’t always a smooth ride.

“Balancing the academics was tough at first,” said White. “You are there to get an education, you have class and work. You have to figure that out while having practice every day.”

White showed toughness, moving into the stroke seat on the varsity 8 and excelling in that critical position, which sets the stroke rate and rhythm for the rest of the crew to follow.

“It was a little intimidating, knowing that I had never raced at the collegiate level before,” said White.

“We were lining up for our first scrimmage and it was just weird, having absolutely no idea what the competition was or what it would be like.”

With the Stanford top lightweight 8 having won five of the last six IRA titles coming into the season, White had some battle-tested veterans to assist her.

“Probably the biggest thing throughout the season was knowing the girls in the boat who had been there before that knew how to get it done no matter what,” said White. “It was really helpful.”

The Cardinal boat got it done from the start, passing two early season tests as it prevailed at the San Diego Crew Classic and the Knecht Cup regatta on Mercer Lake in early April.

“It was the first time that we were going to see Boston University all year and they were our major competition for the season,” said White, reflecting on the San Diego competition.

“We were excited and nervous for it, having absolutely no idea where we would stack up. It was crazy conditions. I wouldn’t say it was a great race but it was a really good way to start our season. The Knecht was really fun; to get to race on my home course was awesome. I think it was a pretty good weekend overall.”

Coming into the IRA national championship regatta on Mercer Lake in early June, White and her teammates were looking to end the season on a high note.

“We were cautiously optimistic; we started in the week or two leading up seeing some pretty good splits that we really hadn’t been able to hit all season,” said White.

“We knew that our times were coming down so that was pretty exciting. I think the last three practices we had leading up to it were all really good so I think we knew the speed was there. All that was left to do was just execute the race.”

Winning its opening heat at the IRA by more than 14 seconds to cruise into the grand final, Stanford executed in the championship race, holding off BU to win another national title, clocking a time of 6:40.480 with the Terriers second in 6:43.420. “Our starts were never our strongest thing,” said White. “The biggest part was to stay internal, knowing that we have speed but at the same time going out and competing.”

For White, winning a national crown on the course where she first started competing in rowing was something she won’t soon forget.

“As soon as I knew I was going to Stanford and that the IRAs were going to be here my freshman year, the prospect of being able to come back here to race  was really special,” said White.

In reflecting on the undefeated campaign, White believed the boat possessed a special mentality.

“I think there was a lot of maturity, the girls who had been there before were really experienced and were really good racers,” said White.

“We were always really responsive. If our coxswain called a move, we were always able to execute.”

Getting All-America recognition and earning the school’s prestigious Block “S” was icing on the cake for White.

“It was a huge honor; I was really surprised and honored just to get it,” said White.

“It is an amazing group of people. Being All American was exciting too, that was really awesome.”

As she looks ahead to her sophomore season, White is hoping for another amazing campaign with the Cardinal.

“I am excited for where our team could go,” said White. “We had a big recruiting class and we graduated only two seniors. I am looking to hit the ground running and trying to build off of what we did last year.”