Brian Conley & Lehigh University Rowing

By Sparks Editorial Staff | August 18, 2016

The Mountain Hawks of Lehigh University row on the beautiful Lehigh River and compete in the Patriot League.  Lehigh University, perched high on South Mountain in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, provides an elegant setting for both education and rowing.

The University was founded in 1865 by Asa Packer, businessman and railroad construction pioneer, with a donation of 57 acres and $500,000 (the largest donation of its kind at that time). It educates 4600 undergraduate and 2000 graduate students. The University is primarily an engineering and business school, but does support some liberal arts studies.  Graduates are very successful in the job market market and Forbes magazine ranked Lehigh graduates 7th for highest starting salaries in engineering and business careers. The University has produced Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Fulbright Fellows, and National Medal of Science winners.

Brian Conley, head coach for the men and women of Lehigh University, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2002 where he captained the lightweight team for his junior and senior year. After a year coaching at Lower Merion High School and four years as the assistant lightweight coach at Dartmouth College, Conley came to Lehigh University in 2011.

“Coming to Lehigh University brought me closer to home and gave me the opportunity to help turn this program around," Conley stated. "We row in Allentown six miles up river from Bethlehem on beautiful water."

Conley also noted that, “Last season’s team was a bit smaller than usual, with 20 women and 14 men, but the smaller numbers did not affect their excellent work ethic or their powerful adherence to the five pillars they live by.”

Those Lehigh University five pillars are excellent fundamentals for any life situation, but are particularly pointed for the rowing community. They are as follows:

1. Self-awareness, judge yourself; are you prepared for the day.
2. Integrity, doing the right thing on and off the water.
3. Toughness, be ready for life’s curveballs.
4. Competitiveness, in practice and racing.
5. Team First, making sure team members keep their commitment to the team without neglecting academic and personal obligations.

Coach Conley explained that they practice nine to ten times per week and that three of those practices are strength training in the morning. All the other practices are in the afternoon. The academic day ends at 4 PM so a bus leaves the campus for the boathouse at 4:15 PM and practice lasts until about 7 PM.

“The Lehigh River is almost always rowable and there are no other rowing teams using the water," Conley noted. "It is protected and the only powerboats on the river arrive early in the season and then disappear before too long leaving the river to the Mountain Hawks alone."

The coaching staff consists of a full-time head coach, one full-time assistant, two part-time assistants, and one graduate assistant. According to Head Coach Conley, they maximize the effectiveness of the staff by rotating coaches to work with the boat that would most benefit from that coach’s strengths. That means that on any given day, any coach could be working with any boat. This coaching strategy requires coaches to communicate very well with each other.

The University permits recruiting of ten men and ten women each year. Scholarships are available only to women and the number of scholarships awarded can vary for the number of quality recruits available. About 50% of the women have prior experience and about 75% of the men have prior experience.

Two male captains and two female captains lead the team. The captain’s role is to keep the big picture in perspective for the team and to meet regularly in open forums to encourage participation in the process to all team members. Early in the season, the team gathers together and sets their goal. The ultimate goal of the Mountain Hawks? Win the Patriot League Championship.

“We haven’t gotten to win that Championship yet, but the  key to getting there is the right attitude, focus, and process which we are working on," Conley said.