OHIO CITY, Oh - The Wildcat Navy have their new head coach and it is a familiar face as Dominic Santora '14 returns to Saint Ignatius High School. Santora was a four-year member of the Wildcat Navy and took his passion to the collegiate level as a coxswain at Syracuse University. He worked his way to becoming a member of the United States U23 team at the 2017 World Championships.
"It's pretty surreal to come back to Saint Ignatius. After my Kairos as a student, I knew that I wanted to come back and teach history, which I haven't gotten there yet, but I also wanted to be a member of the rowing program and take it to the next level," explains Santora. "I am excited to get the opportunity to teach the next generation of athletes."
Santora brings decorated experience back to his Alma Mater, which includes a three-year stint with the Varsity 8+ boat at Syracuse, where he helped lead his class to turn around a program that was in the third-level final to consistently finish in the top 10 by the end of his career.
"You always want to ensure you have the right person, whether they are an alumnus or not. Dominic checks all the boxes for us," says Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick '88. "He fell in love with the sport during his time with the program as a student and took his career to United States Rowing. He has a great perspective and good road map that can relate to students who want to get involved in rowing."
Former Head Crew Coach Connor Walters '09 moved on to Syracuse as he was named an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Orange in August 2022. There are ties between both Walters and Santora. "Connor and I missed each other by a few years at Saint Ignatius as students, but there was a lineage of mentors that connected me to him and he followed my career while I was at Syracuse," Santora explains. "When I graduated from Syracuse, he asked me to be a part of his staff. He has been a mentor and I could not have done what I am planning on doing without him."
"Our program is in great shape. Dominic is familiar with the Wildcat Navy and the traditions will continue to carry over," Fitzpatrick says. "What Dominic will do over time is put his stamp on the program on how to guide these young men. He has similar traits that we saw with Connor."
Santora's passion for rowing came early as a student at Saint Ignatius, as he would join the program his first year. "My Head Rowing Coach my freshman year was Matt Previts '97 and he pointed at me and said do you want to be in charge of eight guys and making sure they get home safely each day and work on being a leader," explains Santora. "That always stuck with me, I wasn't going to be able to play basketball or baseball and I fell in love with rowing."
Santora's strength in the Wildcat Navy is his youth and experiences as a coxswain and his deep understanding of the program. Santora was a four-year member as a student with the Wildcat Navy and came back to be an assistant from 2018 to 2021. Student-athletes will be able to relate and learn under Santora.
"I think I will relate well with the students; having that recent experience is helpful. Knowing what these students go through as a student-athlete," Santora says. "A strength of mine as a young coach and helping the students navigate the process of being a college recruit if they chose to row in college."
Crew continued to build and grow during the absence of a head coach in the fall and it was a commendable effort by the assistant coaches of the Wildcat Navy. Tim Telep '07, Russ Eckless, Mike Hess '07, Doug Emancipator '96 and Bob Emmett did the heavy lifting, ensuring a successful fall season with the student-athletes.
"The assistant coaches were vital in the success of this program," explains Fitzpatrick. "What they had done over time when Connor moved on to Syracuse and looking for a new head coach is immeasurable. They are a huge part of why this program is in great shape heading into the spring season."
Although the weather is cold and nasty, the rowing program is hard at work in the offseason to be ready for spring and build off of last season's successes. "I want to keep the positive trajectory going. The assistant coaches have been amazing while the team has been in limbo," says Santora. "As I get established, I want us to keep the good things going and be a top-tier program."