Sisters Bond As Victorious Teammates In Two Ivy Championship Boats
PRINCETON WINS IVY LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP
Their first experience rowing together was in a pair. Kelsey, the older of the Reelick sisters, remembered it this way:
“We came close to last,” she said with a chuckle. “Yeah, it wasn’t that good. We’ve come sort of far since then.”
How far? Just look at their most recent race together.
The sisters sat one seat away from each other, helping push the Princeton open rowing team to a stunning open water victory over top-ranked Brown May 18 to win the program’s 12th Ivy League championship.
The victory itself wasn’t stunning. After all, Erin and Kelsey combined to lead Princeton to an Ivy League title last spring as well. And Kelsey was the lone freshman in an all-time Princeton boat back in 2011, when she sat in the 7 seat for the NCAA and Ivy League champion varsity eight.
They have won far more than they have lost since they each stepped foot on campus, but their actual 2000-meter performance on Cooper River at the 2014 Ivy League Championships was what turned heads. Princeton, which had lost to Brown in the regular season, grabbed a lead within the first 300 meters and never allowed the Bears to draw even.
“I think we came in this year with a little bit of doubt,” said Kelsey, whose career spanned the end of Princeton’s run in the Eastern Sprints (2011) and all three Ivy League Championship regattas. “We had some superstars last year. But it’s exciting to look at what we’ve done now. We’ve developed people to become like those we lost. I think last year, we were fantastic racers. This year, we have developed some pretty fantastic racers.”
That development, which was accelerated during the spring after a brutal winter that allowed minimal water time, gave Princeton the opportunity to fly under the radar throughout the season.
And then they flew down Cooper River.
“Being the underdog is a lot more fun,” said Erin, who was the lone freshman in the 2013 Ivy champion boat. “Coming through the 1000-meter mark, it was insane. It was a great feeling to be ahead, be up and be able to hold the whole time. We worked hard the whole time.”
Both sisters have worked hard on the water since they were first introduced to the sport during a decade living in New Zealand. Their father, Anthony, is from New Zealand, and they lived there until Kelsey turned 15, when the Reelicks wanted to prepare their daughters — and son Kynan — for college in the United States.
“Rowing in New Zealand is huge,” Kelsey said. “It’s super competitive, so that’s where we picked it up. And then we came over here and found a small club in Connecticut.”
Kelsey was a member of the 2008 Junior National Team, and she was recruited by head coach Lori Dauphiny, who had already established Princeton as one of the top programs in the nation. Reelick credited Dauphiny as one of the key reasons she chose Princeton, and the two have combined to significantly enhance Princeton’s legacy since 2011.
Kelsey never pressured Erin to choose Princeton, but the younger sister couldn’t help but notice how great the experience had been so far. It was a natural fit, and one that left their mother, Sarah, thrilled.
“Our mom will tell you it’s awesome,” Kelsey said. “She loves it. She tries to come watch us all the time. My dad has been hugely into it. When we picked it up, he embraced it 100%. He knows all the stats on the other teams, and who is going to be good this year.
“My mom just loves seeing us together.”
Sisters rowing in the same boat is a new experience for Dauphiny, who has served as the Princeton head coach since 1997. Make no mistake, though. They aren’t rowing together because it’s a nice story.
They’re rowing together because they are terrific competitors. Since 2011, only three freshmen have rowed for a Princeton varsity eight that won an Ivy League championship. One was Georgie Howe, the lone freshman in this year’s boat, which heads to Indianapolis this weekend for the NCAA Championships.
The other two are Kelsey and Erin Reelick.
“Kelsey played a big part in me getting some confidence freshman year,” said Erin, who helped push the varsity eight to a silver medal at the NCAA Championships last year. “As a freshman, you feel like such a small part of it. I thought, wow, I’m sitting behind one of the most amazing athletes in the country. How is this happening?”
They have been each other’s closest allies over the last two years, as you would expect sisters to be. During the rowing season, they admit that their conversations basically have a singular focus.
“[Rowing is] the majority of the conversations,” Erin said. “Especially during the season, it’s usually constant discussion of rowing, erg scores, competition, results …”
And more often than not, those conversations have had positive endings.
Perhaps their post-Princeton careers will lead them together once again on the National Team. But they are guaranteed one more weekend—three more races— together in Indianapolis this weekend. Princeton is the fifth-ranked team in the nation and the third seed in the varsity eight competition.
They both agree that it is easier to not think about that aspect of the event. After all, the NCAA Championships is more than enough to consume their focus.
“Nerves are always nerves,” Erin said. “No matter how many times you go through it, you’re always going to be nervous. It does give you a confidence that you have been here before.”
And they have been here together. This weekend, Kelsey will stroke a boat with major aspirations. Erin will be in the 6 seat, a spot she seems to cherish.
“Sitting behind her, I back up my sister,” she said. “Not that I don’t back up my teammates, but backing up a sister means a little more than just having a teammate’s back.”