BY MADELINE DAVIS TULLY | PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
Every year, the coaching carousel spins, though rarely more furiously than this past summer. In Division I open-weight women’s rowing, 11 female head coaches left their positions—most of their own accord to move on from collegiate coaching, and several others to take over other programs.
Three titans of coaching retired—Liz O’Leary of Harvard-Radcliffe, Bebe Bryans of Wisconsin, and Lisa Glenn of Tennessee.
Marci Robles of George Washington, Nancy LaRocque of Dartmouth, and Madeline Davis Tully of Boston University (this writer) left their positions to pursue other professional and personal opportunities.
Kim Cupini moved on from Southern Methodist University to take the helm at Tennessee. Jess Deitrick departed Colgate to start the new program at High Point University. The recently named head coach of Drexel, Asiya Mahmud, left to replace Kevin Gruber at Delaware.
After 20 seasons at the University of Central Florida, Becky Cramer resigned her position in April. In May, Michigan State University announced that it was parting ways with Kim Chavers after four years. Kim has moved on to take over the recently reinstated Nova Southeastern team.
Additionally, Madison Keaty, Stanford’s lightweight associate head coach, stepped down from her role in July to pursue new career opportunities and has yet to be replaced at the time of publication.
The carousel spun well into August as many of these positions were filled by first-time head coaches. In Cambridge, Claire Ochal took the reins of the Harvard-Radcliffe program after five years at Syracuse serving as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator. She takes over a program that finished fifth in the Ivy League this past season.
“The Ivy League is the most competitive league in the country for our sport, and I’m excited to take on that challenge with the outstanding group of women on our squad,” Ochal told Rowing News as she prepared to move back to her native Massachusetts.
“Taking this step—more like giant leap—into being a head coach and a new mother is something I didn’t anticipate happening simultaneously. I’m reminding myself every day that we as coaches have to live the things we preach to our athletes: find comfort in the uncomfortable; don’t limit yourself; ask for help when you need it; surround yourself with like-minded folks; and, most of all, bring your best effort and best attitude to each day.”
Vicky Opitz became the head coach at her alma mater, Wisconsin, after serving as the assistant lightweight women’s coach there for two years. She is a four-time world champion and two-time Olympic spare.
“I’m tremendously excited, honored, and looking forward to this upcoming season,” Opitz said. “It will be different from the past, but I’m looking forward to building on the foundation that Bebe built. The staff is excited and ready to hit the ground running.”
Similarly new as a collegiate head coach and accomplished as an elite rower, John Graves took over at Dartmouth after two years as assistant heavyweight men’s coach for the Big Green and eight appearances on the U.S. National Team. This is not his first foray into women’s collegiate rowing; he served as a volunteer coach at Michigan for the 2016-17 season and at Texas for their NCAA championship season in 2020-21.
Another first-time head coach, Mara Allen, took the top spot at UCF. Mara spent the past eight years in Austin, where she helped guide Texas to two NCAA national championships and served as the associate head coach this past season. Allen won two national titles as an athlete at Cal before continuing on to the U.S. National Team, where she won the world championship in 2009.
Asiya Mahmud made the move down I-95 to take over the program at Delaware after eight years at her alma mater, Drexel. Mahmud led the Dragons to seven second-place finishes in the Coastal Athletic Association Championship and a tie for first place in 2022. She also has experience coaching on the national team level, including serving as the boat coach for the world-champion junior women’s coxed four in 2022. Her move opened up the head-coach position at Drexel, which had not been filled at the time of publication.
Moving over from associate head coach at Georgetown, Paul Allbright took over the George Washington program. This is his first head-coaching position in the college ranks after serving in the role on the junior level at James Madison High School and Resilient Rowing Club.
Chase Graham, most recently the associate head coach at Duke, now leads the SMU team. Though this is his first collegiate head-coaching position also, Graham led the junior women’s team at Saugatuck Rowing Club before joining the Blue Devils.
Not all of the open positions were filled by first-time head coaches. Malcolm Doldron, who’s been at BU for 12 years, transitioned in July from head lightweight coach to director of women’s rowing. He served as the first and only coach of lightweight women’s rowing there, building the program from the ground up and eventually winning a total of 16 medals at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta, including three national titles in the lightweight women’s double.
In addition to his duties at BU, Doldron coached a total of nine lightweight women’s crews representing the United States at the under-23 world championships from 2017 to 2019, where his teams brought home three medals. This move opened up the head-coach position for the BU lightweight women, which had not been filled at the time of publication.
Stacey Rippetoe returned to Michigan State, where she was an assistant coach from 2000 to 2008, to become the program’s fourth head coach. Most recently, Rippetoe was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Rhode Island. Before that, Rippetoe was director of women’s rowing at BU for nine years, then an assistant at Wellesley. Rippetoe is excited about returning to East Lansing.
“The Big Ten is a fun place to be,” she said. “I’m really happy with the support for the athletes and what we can offer them.”
She credited her coaching network with enabling her to take this step.
“The number-one thing for me is that I’m really, really grateful for the people that I worked for and with. It’s this network that enabled me to stay in coaching—the coaches who trusted me and advocated for me. I cannot express how grateful I am to each of them.”
Jim Lister, the newly named head coach at Colgate, also has a great deal of experience in collegiate women’s rowing, having coached at Duke and Syracuse before becoming the head coach for men’s and women’s rowing at Hamilton College in 2019. At Hamilton, Lister led the women to a second-place finish at the 2021 Division III NCAA National Championship, their best-ever finish at the regatta, and was named the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association DIII Coach of the Year.
In one of the most surprising moves of the summer, Kim Cupini, who catapulted SMU to national prominence in her six years there, took over for Glenn at Tennessee.
Under Cupini’s guidance, SMU won its first-ever conference title in 2021, followed by two more. The Mustangs made their first three NCAA appearances in 2021, ’22, and ’23, where they finished a program-best ninth place. Before that, Cupini led the University of San Diego, her alma mater, for 10 years, winning four West Coast Conference titles.
Cupini spoke frankly to Rowing News about the coaching carousel, during which five of 11 female head coaches were replaced by men.
“From the bottom of my heart, I was sad to see a lot of women icons leaving the sport. At first, I just had a pit in my stomach. But if there’s a positive in this, it’s that I’m excited to see women with young families take on these roles, like Mara Allen at UCF and Claire Ochal at Harvard.
“Personally, I want to help as best I can and encourage everyone to support all coaches in this endeavor, especially women.”