After a long hiatus from the water, the 2021 Crew Cats are ready for their first timed match of the new year. The Wildcats, all off-season, were training and staying motivated for the 2021 season and will have their first major race of the season at Lake Wilhelm, Pa., to take on Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the Rustbelt Catholic Championship at 2 p.m. This will also mark the first spring race for Head Crew Coach Connor Walters ’09. Walters assumed the head coaching role after the 2019 season.
The Wildcats competed in their first scrimmage of the season at the Griggs Reservoir in the Columbus area on March 20. Walters was impressed by the work ethic of his team amid a pandemic. “We learned a lot because we were on the water for only two weeks when we raced,” explains Walters. “That scrimmage showed us that we have been doing the right things as a team during the off-season, and we can get even better.”
Walters was a member of the Saint Ignatius rowing program during his tenure as a student at Saint Ignatius High School from 2005-09 and would continue his rowing career at Marietta College for four more years. Walters was named as an assistant coach to Pat Connor’s ’94 staff in 2014 and, after a long-anticipated wait, gets to coach in his first spring race as head coach.
“My staff and I have continued to coach throughout the pandemic,” says Walters. “We kept in contact with them throughout the spring and figured out to get them in the water during the summer and continued to work in the winter. This is the beginning of what feels like a normal spring season.”
There are plenty of emotions surrounding Walters leading the Wildcats back in the water. “This means so much that we are going to be able to race,” explains Walters. “I’m excited and nervous, but I trust everything we have done over the last 14 months to see where we have come.”
With the weather becoming a tad warmer in Northeast Ohio and the ice melting away from the Cuyahoga River, Crew got to enjoy their first spring practice of 2021 on March 8. “It was awesome,” says Walters. “The energy of the kids, the speed from the boats, and to be back around the scenery of downtown Cleveland was thrilling.”
There is a significant contribution from seniors leading the crew program into 2021. “Our senior class has led us so well,” explains Walters. “They have committed to hard work and focus on working with each other.”
With every new season, there are new goals in mind. For Crew, that is to win the Midwest Championship eight races and qualify and contend for the National Championships. “We are focusing on the job at hand every week,” says Walters.
The Wildcats will race at Lake Wilhelm at 2 p.m. against Pittsburgh Central Catholic, one of the top boys’ programs in the midwest. “This race is big,” says Walters. “This originated as just a rivalry between Pittsburgh Central Catholic and us, and we have raced for about 15 years if not more.”
The Wildcats will be competing for a couple of awards on Saturday afternoon. One of those awards honors the late Daniel Murphy ’12, who passed away in his sophomore year at Saint Ignatius and was a rowing team member. There is a boat named after Murphy as well with Saint Ignatius’ program. “That trophy goes to the winner of the Freshmen 8 event,” explains Walters.
This is an exciting time for Crew, and energy continues to be high for the Wildcats heading into their first timed race of 2021. “This will be indicative of what we can do this year,” says Walters. “If we can compete with Central Catholic, that means we are in a good position to compete in the Midwest and at Nationals.”