By Pat Mariboe
Senior Sports Writer
On July 12, longtime Washington College men’s rowing head coach John Leekley announced his resignation from the program. Leekley, who graduated from WC in 2001, left his coaching position after nine years to seek other options outside of rowing. Leekley’s departure certainly left big shoes to fill; however, WC thinks they have found their man in new head coach Larry Connell.
Connell, who coached at La Salle University from 2004 to 2013, comes into this position with some personal rowing experience of his own, as he was the member of the rowing team at Villanova University, rowed competitively after college, and still rows to this day. Connell is excited about the opportunity to start coaching again and looks forward to the challenges ahead.
“I’ve been out of coaching for two to three years and I’m looking forward to getting back in and I’ve always enjoyed coaching,” said Connell. “I had some different family issues that had to be taken care of and everything is good now, so that not going and traveling 125 miles round trip to Philadelphia really appeals to me, so I think that I am reinvigorated and ready to go.”
There seems to be a certain grandeur to coaching in a such a vibrant city like Philadelphia, yet Connell looks forward to settling down in Chestertown. For Connell, he’s also stepping away from a Division I program to a Division III one at WC, so he certainly has some adjustments to make.
“It’s quite a bit isolated compared to coaching in Philadelphia,” said Connell. “I like the people and the pace of things and the athletes I’ve met, although I haven’t met them all. I’m very positive as far as their attitudes and their desire to work hard. At La Salle it’s a Division I, but it’s a smaller program, actually around the same number of the people rowing here. I was head coach of men and women, so I had a lot of responsibility in doing the compliance end of it and everything. We rented space in the boathouse and it’s nice to be in a boathouse where you have your own equipment and housing and everything without having to worry about your lease and whatnot.”
When asked what the most important piece of advice he would give to student athletes, Connell said, “The first advice I ever gave to any of the athletes is make sure you go to every class. A reason for missing a class is basically inexcusable. Any time I’ve had athletes who have run into difficulty with academic issues, it’s mainly because they’ve missed class time. So that’s number one.”
Connell started his first college level coaching position when he worked at Rutgers University as a part-time assistant coach from 1980 to 1984. He then went on to coach at the University of Pennsylvania for nearly 20 years, from 1984 to 2003. He’s also coached and served on a countless number of teams and committees on the international level. Needless to say, rowing has been apart of his life for a while.
“Some of the equipment has evolved,” said Connell. “Time wise, it’s still the same amount of energy and weekends that it’s always been. So, in many ways it’s still the same. The equipment has evolved and the popularity of the sport has increased. There’s a lot more rowing now at the high school and college level than there was 30 to 40 years ago.”
The Shoremen most recently competed in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships in June, in which they placed 13 out of 28 boats in the competition. WC raced against a number of Division I schools during the tournament, including Dartmouth, Yale, Navy, Brown, and Stanford. The Shoremen race in their first event this season on Oct 9 in the Occoquan Challenge.