May 26, 2007
The following story appeared in the New Haven Register on Friday, May 25.
By Sean O'Rourke
College Sports Editor
NEW HAVEN -- No one has ever questioned the motivation of Will Porter as the Yale women's crew coach. Porter, after all, entered the 2007 season the leader of a program that has developed into the status of national elite since the turn of the century.
But Porter changed his ways this season, according to several members of the varsity eight boat that has Yale ranked second heading into this weekend's NCAA rowing championships on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Porter went through a change of life last season when his father, also William, passed away.
The younger Porter said his dad was his best friend, closest confidant and a regular on race day for Yale crew on spring weekends on the Housatonic River.
The death of his dad made Porter realize the importance of being happy while striving for success.
"It inspired me to be a better coach, a more positive coach," Porter said.
The positive side of competition has always been stressed by Porter in his nine seasons, the last six of which have produced appearances at the NCAA championships.
But this season the inspiration drawn from his father has allowed Porter to translate a positive confidence to his team.
"He handles this team very differently than last year's team or the year before," said Emily Cleveland, a senior coxswain in the varsity eight. "He knows when he needs to crack the whip and when he needs to say `Guys, were OK'. He's really good at reading this group and knowing how to get the best out of his rowers and each of his boats.
"We have a lot of fun making our boats go fast. That's what separates Yale crew from other boats, having fun while going fast. You don't go fast by being stressed out about going fast."
Christine Geiser, a senior who sits in the sixth seat for the varsity eight, noticed a difference in Porter last fall, when the coach sent out an e-mail to his team. "He sent the e-mail and at the bottom it read `GO YALE GO'," Geiser said. "He never had that before. The e-mail was very positive, very enthusiastic. All season, from e-mail's to speeches to coaching on the launch, he has been extremely positive."
Porter had back surgery last spring and missed most of the season. Yale still made the NCAA's but a 10th place finish -- out of 12 teams -- was its worst finish at the championships.
"He hasn't stressed results as much as he's stressed going fast," Geiser said. The results, however, have been nothing but positive. Yale won all seven of its meets during the season, capped by just the program's third championship in 28 years at the Eastern Sprints May 13 in Camden, N.J.
In addition to his return from back surgery and the loss of his father, Porter was inspired by the fact he had a mix of age in his varsity eight this season.
"The easy way to coach kids is through fear," Porter said. "At Yale rowing we try to motivate people through the love of the sport, we never motivate by negative ... that's not part of our philosophy.
"We don't hate our opponents, we don't hate their colors or their name. We enjoy Yale, we look forward to practice and we spend most of our time talking about making good choices in life and not so much about rowing."
The Yale team members did talk about three goals before the season -- going unbeaten, winning Eastern Sprints and winning the program's first national championship. Those first two goals have been accomplished for the first time in the history of the program. Yale's previous best finish at the NCAA meet was second in 2004.
"This group could win the whole thing," Porter said. "We're moving the boats well right now and this team is a little more mature than the past years. The expectations are definitely higher and we have all three boats going well at the right time."
Yale's varsity eight can compete with anyone, including top-ranked Southern California, but the Bulldogs will also need great showings from their second and third varsity boats. Porter, perhaps from divine intervention, is confident his team will do well.
"We've had a lot of good things happen to us this year and every time it happens I think that my dad is watching over us," Porter said.
More honors for Porter
Porter received another honor Tuesday when the College Rowing Coaches Association named him New England Coach of the Year for the fourth time.
Assistant Kate Maloney was selected assistant coach of the year, while Cleveland, Tess Gerrand, Jeffers and Jamie Redman all earned first team All-New England honors. Taylor Ritzel was a second team selection.
Sean O'Rourke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org