River Hawks’ Club Varsity Team Earns Historic Win in Worcester

The women's varsity four rowers celebrate with their gold medals

Women's varsity four rowers, from left, Gillian Amodeo, Arianne Brundrett, Maggie Harding, Charlotte Skolnic and Onyeris Lopez celebrate with their gold medals at the New England Rowing Championships in Worcester.

By Ed Brennen

Their alarm clocks go off at 4:30 a.m., six days a week. While most of the university is still asleep, they are on the Merrimack River, putting in two hours of practice in the early morning chill before heading to class.

For members of the club varsity women’s rowing team, that dedication, hard work and sacrifice paid off this spring. The River Hawks’ varsity four boat of Arianne Brundrett, Maggie Harding, Gillian Amodeo, Onyeris Lopez and coxswain Charlotte Skolnick captured the university’s first-ever gold at the New England Rowing Championships, held on Worcester’s Lake Quinsigamond.

“Winning gold is a true testament to how hard we have worked to get to the level of fitness and strategy which we are at today,” says Skolnick, the crew’s senior captain from Pembroke. “This is definitely the biggest win of my four-year rowing career.”

The university’s men’s and women’s rowing teams transitioned in 2013 from a Division 2 sport to a Division 1 club varsity sport, which provides athletes with many of the same training and competitive opportunities as varsity athletics, but requires that the teams be self-funding.

Since the move, the women’s rowing team has enjoyed steady success under head coach Mark Lewis and novice coach Jennifer Thomas. The varsity four won a silver medal at the 2015 NERCs and bronze in 2016 before striking gold this season.

Rowers and coaches pose after their victory
Head coach Mark Lewis, right, and novice coach Jennifer Thomas, left, pose with the winning varsity four rowers in Worcester.

“I am so proud of the way the girls, and the whole team, raced in the most important event of the season,” says Lewis, former coach of the Oxford College women’s crew in his native England. “It’s been my aim since I joined the program four years ago to take gold in this event, and the girls came through.”

Competing against 10 other crews from across New England, including Bowdoin College, Williams College and Merrimack College, the varsity four finished in a winning time of 6 minutes, 11.926 seconds. Connecticut College was second in 6:16.250.

“We had been practicing that lineup (of rowers) for more than two weeks, so we were used to each others’ movement in the boat, and we knew how to respond to shifts in the water to go as fast as possible,” says Lopez, a sophomore exercise physiology major from Wakefield. She transferred to UMass Lowell from Franklin Pierce University over winter break and immediately earned a seat on the top boat.

For graduating seniors Amodeo and Brundrett, it was the last race of their college rowing careers.

The women's varsity four rowers look at their trophy
The women's varsity four rowers admire their trophy at the New England Rowing Championships in Worcester.

“I had never won a medal before, and I knew that if we brought all we had for this race, we would win,” says Brundrett, a Milford native who earned a degree in exercise physiology. “We have been training all year, from the Head of the Charles Regatta to winter training (in Gainesville, Ga.), and it shows that the early mornings and hard work really does pay off.”

Skolnick, who is on track to complete her degree in environmental science this December, says the rowing team is one of the first activities she joined as a freshman.

“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says. “The team has been such a family to me over the years, and crew itself definitely provided me with structure going into college. I've become so used to waking up at 4:30 a.m. I almost can't imagine sleeping in ... almost.”

Harding, a senior public health major from Easton who has one more season of eligibility remaining, is already looking forward to getting back to work at the Bellegarde Boathouse and defending the NERC gold.

“We want everyone to know that UMass Lowell is here to stay and we are going to continue to improve,” she says. “My goal is to hang on to that fours trophy. Now that we have it, I don’t want to let it go.”