2012-10-25 / News

NK grad leads crew team

Ashley Avila looks forward to Saturday’s championship
BY MARGO SULLIVAN


2011 North Kingstown graduate Ashley Avila (bottom) will stroke the first novice eight boat at the Seven Sisters Championship on Saturday on the Charles River in Boston. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MOUNT HOLYOKE ATHLETICS DEPARTMENT 2011 North Kingstown graduate Ashley Avila (bottom) will stroke the first novice eight boat at the Seven Sisters Championship on Saturday on the Charles River in Boston. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MOUNT HOLYOKE ATHLETICS DEPARTMENT 2011 North Kingstown graduate Ashley Avila has high hopes for the Mount Holyoke College novice crew team in this weekend’s Seven Sisters Championships on the Charles River in Boston.

According to Amie Candield, the school’s sports information director, Avila will be stroking the first novice eight boat at the regatta on Saturday. Avila, 18, is the first rower in the boat and sits behind the coxswain.

Avila hasn’t been rowing her whole life. The college freshman took up crew four years ago when she was a high school student in Washington, D.C. A friend told her about rowing lessons – Avila had never before heard of crew. She was intrigued, but she hated rowing. The lessons lasted two weeks, and then she had three months to decide if she wanted to continue.

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” she said. Avila says she was not used to anything so physically grueling. But she decided to stick with the sport.

“I shouldn’t quit just because it’s hard,” she decided. “Now, I can’t imagine not doing it.”

Avila is the daughter of David and Mary Avila. She was born in Spokane, Wash., and has lived all over the United States because her father is in the military. Avila spent a year on the island, and she helped her family pick Jamestown as home based on the commute to her father’s job at the Naval War College and her own travels to a rowing club.

Her parents have since left Jamestown for South Korea. Avila will join them for Christmas. She hopes to return to Rhode Island permanently someday, she said.

Last June, Avila graduated from North Kingstown. The Skippers don’t have a crew team, but she rowed after school at the Narragansett Boat Club on Providence’s east side.

At Mount Holyoke, Avila is studying English in the hopes of becoming a high school teacher, she said. “I have always loved to read. I think in high school you get to talk a lot about these wonderful classic books.”

Ashely says she would rather teach high school than college because the students are more diverse and their perspectives are more interesting. She would also like to coach high school crew.

Avila chose Mount Holyoke after visiting the campus last year, meeting the head coach and crew team, and sitting in on some classes.

“I absolutely love the team,” she said, “and I love the classes.”

Head coach Janel Crawford said Avila is among several “recruits” with prior rowing experience. Six of the eight rowers in the first novice boat are experienced, she said. Avila has settled into a role as leader.

“Avila is doing a really great job – stroking, setting the pace, being the leader of crew,” Crawford said. “We are very pleased to have her.”

As a recruit, Avila will spend freshman year with the novice team and will move up to varsity automatically next year.

One recruit did make the varsity this year, Avila said, but to do that the rower has to be “an outlier,” meaning someone extremely fast.

Crawford said speed is the main factor that wins races. There’s a little bit of strategy that the coxswain executes, such as deciding whether to pass another boat and figuring out the shortest distances, but for the rowers, the meet advice is simple: “Put your head down and go hard,” says Crawford. “It is definitely very physical.”

Crawford said there is a mental challenge as well. Rowers have to pay attention “inside a little narrow boat” and repeat the “same thing, without variation.”

“You can’t slow down or ease off,” said Crawford.

Mount Holyoke previously has defeated all the other teams in the conference, so Avila says she has a good feeling about Saturday. Crawford said she would be “cautiously optimistic” about the team’s chances, but added she couldn’t say for sure if Wellesley, Smith and Simmons College have raced their best talent. Mount Holyoke did beat the other teams in a regatta on Oct. 13, but Crawford said she didn’t know for sure if some of the top rowers had missed that meet due to illness or injuries.

Crawford said the Seven Sisters is a Division-III league, and a bit of a misnomer. The conference has about five schools, and the traditional Seven Sisters schools – Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley – do not all belong to the league.

Barnard and Radcliffe, for example, collaborate with other schools, Barnard with Columbia, Radcliffe with Harvard. They are Division-1 programs. Vassar College also has left the Seven Sisters conference, due to scheduling conflicts. Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith and Wellesley have stayed with the conference, and Simmons College has come on board. Simmons was invited because it’s a women’s college and the conference wanted to have more than four teams, Crawford said.

In her first college meet, Avila walked away with a gold ribbon, and according to her coach, the only thing that diminished the victory was the fact that none of Mount Holyoke’s opponents showed up to race that day.

Still, a win is a win, Crawford said, and she added the first novice team would have done well if the other schools had tested them anyway.

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