Sophomore men's rower Benjamin Sovocool has embraced a new mindset while competing with Puget Sound.
The defining moment so far in my Puget Sound career happened last year at WIRAs (Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship). Although I had rowed in high school, I was still eligible to race as a novice, as so I found myself in a novice four with three guys who had started rowing that year. We were all unsure about what was going to happen going into the weekend, both in terms of our own speed and that of the competition.
For context, I spent four years of high school rowing at a highly competitive program, one where we were expected to win every race. When we finished second, it was a disaster, both for the team and for us as individuals. I remember everyone would tell me to look at things in perspective, and I would basically laugh in their faces. To listen to them would have been to invite a losing mentality, and losing was worse than anything. I still don't think that it's unnatural for a top team to not accept anything except winning outright, but I will admit that it was an unhealthy mindset in some ways. Racing on that team was nerve-wracking.
Going into WIRAs, though, that pressure wasn't there. Although we wanted to win, we had no idea where the boat was going to end up — we just wanted to get out there and race, and hopefully snag a medal. Although we had a rocky qualifying session, we smoothed out in semifinals and snuck our way into the grand finals. We still weren't entirely sure about our pace, but as a boat we were happy to have pulled things together enough to get into grands. We met with our coach, and went to bed ready to race the next day.
When we raced in the finals we dropped a huge chunk off our overall time, and we managed to scrape by UC-Irvine to reach the podium. Although it was only third place, I was happier about that win than any other race in my life.
There are certain limitations that come with being a Division-III program, especially one at a small school: limitations on practice time, small team size, older equipment. But with these limitations comes an underdog status that I had never experienced before. Previously, I had been one of the bad guys in the story, defeated in the final moment by the plucky underdogs. Cheers, smiling, we slink off, embarrassed. Now, I got to experience the other side of the coin. We were going up against schools with ten times the student body, with fewer restrictions on their training season, and beating them! I don't think I will ever forget that race, because it made me truly love this program.