The William & Mary Rowing Club would wholeheartedly agree with that old adage about what a difference a year can make.
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This time a year ago, Ashley Koontz ’14 was in Dallas, completing her freshman year as a scholarship rower for Southern Methodist University.
Charlotte Dobry ’14 was in Williamsburg, but other commitments kept her from taking part in the season-ending championship.
Two weeks ago on the Olympic rowing course in Gainesville, Ga., they were neck-and-neck in competing boats in the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) National Championship’s Varsity Women’s 1x, with Wichita State and University of Texas women an eyelash behind.
In the final 500 meters, Koontz pushed through fatigue and some disorientation to win the gold medal by 2.4 seconds over Wichita State. Another 1.3 seconds behind was Dobry, who captured the bronze medal.
Significant? You bet. A year ago, the two W&M entries in this event finished well out of contention.
In addition to the two medalists, the Women's Varsity 4+ took fourth overall, moving up 10 places from last year. On the men's side, the Men's Lightweight Varsity 4+ won bronze, adding more medals to an extremely successful weekend.
“We tried to make some significant gains with our competitiveness on a regional and national level this year, which I believe led to the success we had at the ACRA Championships,” said Travis Hall, the College’s director of rowing and head women's rowing coach. “Having such a big improvement from one year to the next is just a testament to the hard work and determination of the athletes, and also having them believe that William & Mary can compete on that level.
“That's not to say that these are not incredible athletes, because they have certainly pushed themselves over the past nine months to get themselves where they are.”
Koontz, from Haddonfield, N.J., grew up rowing at the Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River and the Caspersen Olympic Training Center, 40 minutes away in Princeton, NJ. It gave her the opportunity to learn from many current and former National Team and Olympic rowers.
“I think overall my favorite part of Nationals this year was not winning, but seeing the success we had overall as a team,” she said. “It was such a great experience to see the progress we have made as a team throughout the year and our success at Nationals was a great end to show the strides we have made!”
Dobry grew up in Oakton, Va., where she rowed on her high school team. She had never raced in a single until going down to Georgia for heats, where she came in first.
“Rowing has been a huge part of my life for the past six years as a great way to exercise, compete and hang out with the people who have become my best friends,” Dobry said.
She and Koontz were side by side in the water in the final race. Uncharacteristically, Koontz got off to a bad start and said she was so intent on keeping up with the competition that she lost track of how much of the race she had completed. She thought she had done half when she’d actually completed three-fourths and had just 500 meters left.
“It was at that point that I had a split second of doubt that I would be able to medal because of how exhausted I already was,” she said. “However when I saw the buoys turn green indicating that I was in the last 500 meters of the race rather than the last 1000 meters, I knew I had it in me to bring up my stroke rating and push those last two minutes harder than I had at any other point during the race. It was so tight going towards the finish that I really had no clue that I was about to win until my last five to 10 strokes.”
The team practices on the Chickahominy River, about eight miles west of Williamsburg.
“We just opened our first permanent boathouse – the Tack Family Boathouse – in October,” Hall said. “It has been great for taking that first new step in competitiveness.”