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Michigan State co-ed crew club experiences racing on the Grand River

Nick Burt
The Adrian College crew team gathers in the staging area at Grand River Park to discuss strategy. This is where all the traveling teams gather to set up, tear down, and discuss strategy during regattas.

This was the big moment of the fall for the Spartans, training hard for weeks for the one meet on home waters: the Head of the Grand Regatta

EAST LANSING, Mich. - On a crisp October Saturday, crew boats took to the Grand River for the Head of the Grand regatta. The Michigan State coed crew club competed against Adrian College, Grand Valley State, and Michigan Tech.

The Spartans have been practicing and training six days a week this fall semester for this moment: their only chance to compete on home waters this season.

“There is always that extra sense of pride competing on home waters,” varsity rower and recruitment chair Brendan Cox said. “You have a comfortability with the water, and it gives you the feeling of having an extra edge over the competition.”

The event was split into three main categories: men, women, and coed competition. Although it is uncommon for the team to only have one home regatta this season, it is because of the way club crew scheduling is done.

“Scheduling is like an honor system,” Cox said. “We will invite teams here one year, and we will return to their waterways the next year.”

This season just ended up being a perfect storm, leading to the club traveling for most of their events this season.

Nick Burt
Two Grand Valley State University varsity 8 boats race past the docks of Grand River Park.

Not only was it an event for the varsity teams to compete, it also had events for novice teams to compete and gain experience. For some members of the MSU team, this was their first event on home waters.

“I felt a lot of pressure, but it was good pressure,” freshman novice member Norm Stokes said. “It was really fun, but also really competitive.”

In comparison to the normal practice day on the Grand River, Stokes noticed two big differences to matchday.

“Obviously the first one is focusing on your rowing, but you also have to keep your eye on the other teams you are competing against,” Stokes said. “The second thing is you have a lot more adrenaline going through you during the match.”

In what was probably the biggest moment for the club to come out of the event was the women’s team getting to compete in its first ever home match.

WATCH - Varsity 8 action seen from the banks of the river at Grand River Park.


“It was really an exciting day for me to be the captain of the varsity women’s eight boat,” Katarina Johnson said. “Being the person leading the team in our first home match was really awesome.”

As one of the first women to re-join the club last fall after the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson would end up practicing with the men last year because there weren’t enough women to put together a team. As the club grew within these past 12 months, new opportunities arose for the club to expand.

“As the club grew during the spring semester last year, we got more women joining the club and the possibilities of a women’s team became more of a possibility,” Johnson said. “This fall semester we got enough to form a full eight team, and I was proud to be the captain of that team.”

Not only was MSU attempting to defend their home waters, but they were also attempting to keep a trophy home.

Nick Burt
A lone Michigan State 8 boat warms up on their way to the starting line to prepare for the varsity men's race.

“There’s always that added pressure because you know you are competing to have your school's name engraved on the trophy,” Johnson said. “That name is going to be there forever and you want to make sure that you are part of that team that gets their name engraved on that trophy.”

The towering silver jug that is the Head of the Grand trophy ended up having GVSU’s name engraved at the base, as they won the regatta.The crew club capped their fall season with the Bald Eagle Collegiate Invitational in Indianapolis. The women’s novice 4 team finished in 1st against the likes of Grand Valley State, Illinois, IUPUI, and Purdue. The women’s novice 4 team finished in 3rd with Purdue and Dayton finishing right in front of them. The men’s varsity team ended up finishing in the top five in both of their events.

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