PHOTO AND STORY COURTESY HARVARD ATHLETICS
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Claire Ochal has been named The Friends of Radcliffe Rowing Head Coach for Women’s Heavyweight Crew, Erin McDermott, The John D. Nichols ’53 Family Director of Athletics, announced today. Ochal will arrive at Weld Boathouse following a successful five-season stint at Syracuse where she served as the Orange’s associate head coach and recruiting coordinator.
“We are thrilled to welcome Claire back onto the Charles River to lead Radcliffe Rowing as the next women’s heavyweight head coach,” McDermott said. “Claire is widely respected across the rowing community, and she is passionate about mentoring and coaching young women as they compete together and strive for excellence. We are excited for the future of women’s heavyweight rowing that continues to also look back and honor its significant past.”
“I’m extremely honored and excited to join the Harvard-Radcliffe Women’s Rowing program,” Ochal said. “Thank you to Erin McDermott, Andrea Lapointe and the search committee for this opportunity to be a part of Harvard Athletics. A special thank you to Coach Liz O’leary for her incredible tenure and for paving the way for female coaches in this sport. There’s an incredible legacy with this team and this university that I’m looking forward to contributing to. I cannot wait to begin working with the student-athletes to do the good work of building boat speed and, more importantly, forming strong women.
“The passion and commitment of the alumnae, the access to Weld Boathouse on the storied Charles River and the mission of education through athletics provides this program with the ability to achieve success at the Ivy League and NCAA level. I look forward to joining this community and leading this team into a bright future.”
During her time in central New York, Ochal guided the Orange to unprecedented heights, helping build the foundation in her first season when Syracuse finished in third place at the 2019 ACC Championships. The momentum from its bronze performance was temporarily halted in 2019-20 due to the pandemic, but quickly regained in 2020-21.
The 2021 spring campaign brought another third-place showing at the conference regatta, but the Orange saved its best for last at the NCAA Championships. Ochal tutored a Syracuse crew that finished 10th nationally, marking its best performance in school history.
In her final two seasons with the Orange, Syracuse continued to make strides, posting a runner-up effort at the 2022 ACC Championships and a 17th-place showing at NCAAs before making more history in 2023. Last year’s Orange first varsity eight won the ACC for the first time in program history, en route to ACC Crew-of-the-Year accolades. As a team, Syracuse came in second place for the second straight year before finishing in 13th place at the NCAA Championships.
Prior to her time at Syracuse, Ochal dedicated her time to developing rowers of all ages. During the summer of 2019, she served as the southwest women’s head coach for the USRowing Olympic Development Program and was PNRA/Mercer’s U23 women’s head coach in the summer of 2016. While in New Jersey, Ochal ran a competitive summer program for 12 Division I athletes from across the country, coaching them at several summer regattas, including the U23 World Championship Trials, Independence Day Regatta, and Canadian Henley.
Ochal’s first collegiate rowing position came at Temple where she served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. In 2015-16, Ochal helped the Owls’ freshman eight boat to a first-place finish at the 2015 Navy Day Regatta and the third varsity eight to a first-place performance at the 2016 American Athletic Conference Championships.
Before joining the Temple staff, Ochal was the varsity women’s coach and assistant program coordinator for the nationally acclaimed Long Beach Junior Crew. With Ochal at the helm, Long Beach Junior Crew posted numerous top-five efforts at major events across the country and helped the novice team become the most successful in LBJC history.
Ochal, who received a USRowing Level II Coaching Certification in 2015, is familiar with the Boston area having rowed at nearby Boston University. A three-year team captain on the women’s rowing team and NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee member, Ochal received her bachelor’s degree from BU in health science & public health in 2012.