Women’s rowing has entered Monmouth University’s athletic lineup as the school’s 24th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I sport.
The addition of the team was announced in 2021 by Monmouth University Director of Athletics Jeff Stapleton, who noted that “Monmouth’s close proximity to the water and the shore provides a natural fit to add women’s rowing to our athletic department and we are thrilled to partner with our local community as we build a championship program.”
Scott Belford serves as the program’s head coach alongside assistant coach Olivia Staff. Prior to joining the Monmouth University athletic community, Belford spent 18 years as the head coach of varsity crew at Christian Brothers Academy after founding the program in 2004. Staff spent four years as an assistant rowing coach at the University of Tulsa and held the title of Interim Head Coach in 2022 before coming to Monmouth.
“It’s 2022. People are usually taking away things rather than adding them. It’s going to be unique in helping to build, but also really supporting the student-athletes and their experience,” said Staff.
“We’re just excited to give them a good opportunity to compete at this level while also understanding that we’re going to get better each year, and that’s going to be interesting to watch.”
“This is a really unique experience. There aren’t too many people out there who have had the opportunity to do this,” added Belford. “It’s a really unique challenge, but from my perspective, I think this is a lot of fun.”
The women’s rowing team announced its first recruiting class in July, consisting of 11 incoming freshmen from five different states. Beyond these recruited student-athletes, Belford and Staff are seeking to expand the team by retaining walk-on athletes from the wider campus community.
“We have 11 athletes on the team and another 15 with walk-on interest,” explained Belford. “Most D1 programs are about two-thirds recruited athletes. You do need that experience, and having those experienced athletes helps bring talented walk-ons along faster. The learning curve is accelerated when we have the luxury of putting recruited athletes in the boat with walk-on’s.”
“At the college level, the sport relies heavily on walk-on’s and finding people who were athletes in high school, aren’t playing their sport in college, and want to try something different,” continued Belford. “If you look at the landscape of the sport nationwide, you have a lot of areas where it just doesn’t exist. If you go out to a state like Nebraska, there’s almost no chance that you could have rowed in high school.”
“We want people who are good academically but who are also willing to grow and learn. We want some leadership skills as well,” explained Staff.
Athletically, the team is looking for tall, long-limbed athletes with a predisposition toward endurance.
“We’re looking for people who are interested in attacking it and being aggressive with it,” added Belford. “The other thing that really jumps out for us is people who can take verbal instruction and translate it into making technical changes in order to figure out how the stroke works.”
“We’re going to measure this season on progress. Obviously when the first poll comes out, we’re going to be picked to finish last in the CAA because we only have freshmen and we’re going to be up against programs that because of COVID have not only freshmen through seniors, but most teams now have fifth and sixth years,” explained Belford.
“Because this is the rowing program’s first year, the sky really is the limit. It is up to us what we achieve, and my hope is to make waves in the CAA during my four years here,” said freshman recruit Alaina Ruggiero, one of the first 11 members of the women’s rowing team. “I was immediately inspired by the way Monmouth students, athletes, coaches, and faculty care about the community and uplift each other. When I was lucky enough to be presented with the opportunity to be a part of this brand-new program, which is truly once in a lifetime, I was all in. Just knowing that my team and I are making history with each inch we move the boat is something that I couldn’t experience anywhere else.”
“My hopes for the future of the rowing program is that our team can work together to help build the foundation of the Monmouth women’s rowing team,” added teammate Marissa McKenzie.
“I fell in love with rowing because it is a very rewarding sport in the sense that if you honestly work hard, you will see success,” explained teammate Hailea Anderson. “It also is a very teamwork-based sport, and I hope to see this first class of recruits continue to inspire a motivating and welcoming atmosphere.”
“By the time we get the same four year roster that everybody else has, I think you’re going to see a lot of excellent performances from us. Ultimately, this is a team that will probably have a roster somewhere in the 40’s by the time we get to year three and year four. It’ll be one of the bigger women’s sports on campus,” concluded Belford.
The women’s rowing team will kick off their inaugural season at the Navy Day Regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on Saturday, Oct. 15.