Crew Coach Celebrates 20 Years at Wesleyan

Phil Carney, head men’s crew coach, stands near the Connecticut River where the team practices and races.
Posted 06/16/06
Q: Phil, when did you first pick up an oar?

A: I started rowing in the spring of 1978, at St John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Mass. I was introduced to the sport by my friends from the school soccer team that I played on in the fall.

Q: You’ve been at Wesleyan for quite sometime. What keeps it interesting?

A: The upcoming year will be my 20th at Wesleyan, and it has gone by very quickly! The job is different every year as we strive to continually improve the program, but the main factor that keeps it interesting is the wide variety of bright, energetic, talented students that keep coming to Wesleyan.

Q: The men’s crew season ended in early May. Briefly recap the 2006 season.

A: We had a great season, and the record of our varsity eight was 9-3. The overall strength and depth of the squad can best be seen by looking at their outstanding day of races at the New England Championships. There, our first eight was 4th, our second eight took 3rd, our third eight placed 2nd, and our novice four also placed 2nd. A bit confusing, but overall this was a terrific day for the squad, placing us among the best programs in the region, and really good performances from all the crews.

Q: Who were your leading student-athletes and how does the roster look for next year?

A: Our only senior was Nathan Boon, who was a co-captain and a four-year member of our varsity eight. He had a great year, and we will miss him a great deal next year. Our additional returnees from last year’s crew are co-captain Matt Carey, Chris Cody and Jeremy Brown, who all had strong years. Kim Davies, Tom Volgenau and Alpay Koralturk moved up from our 2nd and 3rd varsity crews last year to make the first boat. Doug Cody, and Brian Studwell were two outstanding freshmen members of the first varsity as well.

Q: When does the men’s crew season begin and how do the athletes work to keep in shape year-round? Any lessons that you stress off-season?

A: We are on the water from Sept ­ November and again from Feb ­ May. In the off season, the guys follow a training program without coaches through the winter. The new erg room and addition to the freeman center have been a huge help to our team. The most important things through the winter that make us competitive in the spring are consistency in your training, and a strong commitment to your team. Doing the work without the coaching staff present can be difficult for some, but when the guys take ownership of the program in the winter time, we are a better squad in the end.

Q: Over your time here, what have been some of your or your team’s most memorable accomplishments?

A: We have had some really great crews here over the years, and it is hard to pick, but some of the most fun races we have had include winning the New Englands in 2004, some outstanding races over the years at the ECAC Championships including this years qualifying race where we made it into the top levels by less than 0.1 second in front of Orange Coast College, some great races at the Royal Henley Regatta in England. We have earned medals at all the Head Races in the fall over the years as well.

Q: Where did you attend college? When did you decide to become a coach?

A: I went to Trinity College and majored in religion. I started coaching immediately after graduation, and thought I would teach in a prep school and coach as well. I enjoyed coaching a great deal, got a great job here, and stuck with it.

Q: I understand that you’ve won several medals at the USRA Nationals as a member of the Pioneer Valley Rowing Association and have been a U.S. Rowing lightweight development coach in both 1988 and 1992. Aside from Wesleyan, where else have you coached?

A: I have coached at Trinity, Pioneer Valley, Thames River Sculls, Craftsbury Sculling Center in Vermont, Riverfront Recapture in Hartford, and for the Middletown Park and Recreation Department.

Q: Tell me more about the Riverfront Recapture Rowing Club, of which you found in 1993.

A: The Riverfront Recapture is a community rowing program serving the Hartford area. The program has grown tremendously. They now have a terrific boathouse in the North Meadows area of Hartford, and they serve the greater Hartford area. All of the public high schools in the city have rowing teams now through RRI as well. It has been a huge success there. I have been involved only periodically lately, but I will be coaching at a youth camp there later this month.

Q: Middletown has its own Parks and Recreation Department Crew Program. What is your role with this and where does the team compete?

A: I coached there for about three years, but ran out of time when my kids arrived! It was a blast, and we had about 100 people in the program by the end. It continues to exist in the summertime, and they compete in the Head of the Connecticut in the fall. We went to the Head of the Charles a couple of times as well, along with some local summer races.

Q: Your assistant coach, Kevin MacDermott ’02, was captain of the men’s crew during his senior year here at Wes. What influence does he have on the student athletes?

A: Kevin has been with the team for the past nine years, as an undergraduate and coach, and has been an instrumental part of our recent successes. This year especially, we have worked well as a team, co-coaching all the athletes on the squad. With his more recent undergraduate experience, he has had a real personal connection with a lot of the guys. He is bright, hard working and committed to the athletes and our success. I think he is on the road to an outstanding career as a coach.

Q: What classes have you taught as an adjunct professor of physical education?

A: I now teach sculling on the water in the fall, and Rowing for Fitness indoors in the wintertime. I have previously been a squash instructor as well.

Q: Where are you from originally? Do you have family in the area?

A: I grew up in Worcester, Mass. and presently I live in Deep River with my wife Sarah and our twins Jack and Isabel who are 3 years old. Sarah will be a visiting professor in the Psychology Department next year. Some of my family is still in Worcester, and my in-laws now live about five miles away from us in Essex.

Q: What are your hobbies and interests? Any plans for the summer?

A: The summer time is here, and finally there is some time to consider this question! I spend as much time as I can with Sarah, Jack and Isabel. The children are growing fast and time passing quickly. We do a lot of work on the house and yard, go for the occasional run, head for the beaches or a hike. I enjoy golfing a great deal, as well, but haven’t played much lately. This summer, we will likely head off for a weekend or two, to Cape Cod or even Sesame Place, but no big plans.

Q: What are your thoughts on working at Wesleyan?

A: It has been a great experience and opportunity for me to work at Wesleyan with the outstanding student-athletes and coaches. I think that coaching really exposes one to many people on campus, and in each interaction, be it Admissions, Development, Public Safety or an academic department. I am constantly reminded what an amazing collection of people live and work here. I am proud to be a part of this center for excellence, and I’m working hard to keep our program at the high standard of the university.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor