Thank You Coach Wanner!

By Guest Contributor

If you happen to walk by the Middlebury Crew Team Sweatshop in the early afternoon, chances are you will see a former U.S. National Team rower plugging away on the ergometer with Middlebury students. Noel Wanner, the Head Coach of our crew team, is one of those coaches who believe that in order for their athletes to thrive, everyone needs to be fully committed to the task at hand, from rower to coxswain to coach. At the end of last semester, we received the sad news that Coach Wanner will be leaving us to become the Head Men’s Coach at Tufts University.   

Coach Wanner began his rowing career as a novice walk-on at Wesleyan University in the late eighties. Although he came to Wesleyan expecting to play lacrosse, by the time spring season rolled around he was hooked on rowing. He rowed for his remaining years in the varsity men’s eight. After graduation, Coach Wanner stayed as the Novice Men’s Coach in addition to training for the pre-elite National Team selection camp. Beginning in 1992, he went on to row for several years with the U.S. National Team. He won national championships and raced internationally at the World Championships and the World Cup Series. 

Middlebury Crew was founded in 1989, when two entrepreneurially spirited students sold off a laptop and a motorcycle to purchase the first wooden pair from Coach Harry Parker of Harvard University. The original team was in fact not the Middlebury Crew Team but rather the Polar Bear Rowing Club (the initials of the two founders were PB), as the college did not want to be held liable for any issues. Like most other club crew teams with limited funding and resources, Middlebury mainly raced fours. Coach Wanner joined the Middlebury Crew Team as the Novice Coach in 2007 and quickly transitioned to the Head Coach position. He has since been responsible for the growth and direction of our team, including the switch from rowing fours competitively to rowing eights. This transition required a big step up in commitment and competition, as we began racing against fully funded and established varsity programs. The first year that the women raced in the open eight event at the Dad Vail Regatta, they were destroyed. Last spring, the women’s eight won the Petite Finals.

To put it simply, Coach Wanner has had a tremendous impact on the Middlebury Crew Team. Under his direction, the team has grown from 20 athletes to over 70, and we are starting to see some of the team’s best results ever. Last spring, in addition to the win in the Petite Finals at the Dad Vail Regatta, the women’s varsity four won 2nd place. Both the first and second varsity boats made the Grand Final at the New England Rowing Championship. This past fall, the varsity women’s eight placed 9th in the Head of the Charles Regatta collegiate eight event. In addition, the women narrowly missed out on 2nd place to Williams College by .05 seconds at the Head of the Fish. These are the best fall results the women have ever seen. Our men’s team consistently places among the top ten eights programs in New England and wins in small boat events throughout the season. Last season, the novice men came in 4th at the New England Rowing Championship, and this fall the men’s varsity four came in 7th at the Head of the Charles.  

When people ask us why we row, the answer usually revolves around competition, the thrill of success, a touch of masochism, a willingness to be in shape and the desire to participate in the ultimate team sport. Boats cannot cross the finish line without the dedication and passion of both the athletes and the coach, as crew requires a level of patience and teamwork not found in many other facets of life. Coach Wanner is responsible for a generation of student athletes who have learned to push through the wall and fight for the small successes, not only in rowing but also in life. Known for his inspirational speeches, particularly in moments of self-doubt and fear, Coach Wanner has had a knack for calming even the craziest of rowers. 

Coach Wanner, thank you so much for all of the time, dedication, passion and love you have put into our crew team. If it weren’t for you, many of us would have given up a long time ago. While all of us are saddened by the news of your departure, this period represents an exciting transition for both you and us. We will sorely miss your life metaphors, your dog Daggoo and your pride in us as we cut the cake and toss the watermelon on every stroke. Your smile and congratulations at the end of races motivate us to work harder every day. We look forward to leaving it all on the line against your new team and wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!