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Cox steers Harvard crew to victory

Kessler's strategy shaves off seconds

CAMBRIDGE -- Coach Bill Manning of the Harvard freshman heavyweight eights touted the talents of coxswain Allison Kessler last week, saying her ability to steer and her intelligence were reasons she was at the helm of a 58-foot men's youth eights boat.

Yesterday, Manning's faith in Kessler paid off as the Harvard freshmen -- rowing as the Charles River Rowing Association -- beat out defending champion Homberger Rowing Club from Germany. Kessler was credited with taking a tighter inside line at the Eliot Bridge near the end of the race, shaving time off the line to the finish and beating Homberger by a whopping 13 seconds plus.

The Yale University Boat Club, starting in 28th position, cruised to third place, another seven seconds back.

Starting in the first bow position, Homberger held a four-second lead at the Riverside Boat Club about a mile into the 3-mile race. Another mile upstream, at the Weld Boathouse, the Germans' lead had dropped to about one second. But then, Harvard made its move.

"I could see them ahead," said Kessler, a paraplegic after a ski racing accident three years ago. "After we passed Brown [second boat to start], I could see [Homberger] making a really wide turn and I took the inside. We definitely cut the distance a lot."

Coming out of the Eliot Bridge with a lead of more than six seconds, Kessler called for a sprint to the finish and the Harvard bow tripped the finish beam at 15:14.254; Homberger crossed at 15:27.649.

At the awards ceremony, Kessler was hoisted onto the stage by her teammates as the crowd gave her an enormous cheer.

"It was great," said Kessler, who coxed a four at Choate Rosemary Hall School in Wallingford, Conn. "I've never won anything like this. Coxing this team is a lot different from a high school four. It's faster, stronger, more intense.

"These guys are awesome."

Kessler said she did not have to work hard to motivate her crew. "I just told them, `Let's go, we're gaining on them.' And they took it from there.

"They were great."

Kessler said she knew from practices this week that her team was strong. "I didn't want to say that I knew we were going to win, but I knew we would do well. These guys can really kick it up when we need to."

Rower Toby Medarys credits Kessler with the team's success. Having rowed at the club level in Sydney for several years, Medarys says Kessler has several qualities that "put her right up there with the best coxes I've rowed for. She can steer very well and find a good line to follow. She's very good."

Despite Kessler's early success, yesterday's win does not assure her a cox spot in the spring when sprint season begins.

"This was a great race for Allison," said Manning. "Sprints are a little different. A cox has to have the ability to hold a straight line while all hell is breaking out all around them. She is a terrific cox with a great future in Harvard rowing, but next spring Allison will have to compete for her spot with a number of other candidates."

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