Mike Lane & UPenn Women's Rowing

By Helen Tompkins | September 23, 2013

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Joggers and bicyclers on Kelly Drive enjoy views of rowing shells practicing on the Schuylkill River. The river’s racecourse boasts over one hundred years of exciting races and remains a linchpin of United States rowing culture. Two kilometers downstream of that course, Boathouse Row bustles with the comings and goings of hundreds of rowers per day. Road tripping magazines and state brochures call the charming clutch of boathouses an absolute must-see, but the University of Pennsylvania Women’s rowing team calls it home.

“I expect a lot from my athletes!  I love this sport for what it has given to me, and I try to impart that same impact on the Penn Women."

“Having so many other people passionate about our sport as our neighbors is really pretty special,” says the program’s head coach, Mike Lane. “ When you step out on our dock and look around, you see rowers of all ages going out to accomplish the same thing.  That is something that I have never experienced before being here.”

Coach Lane moved to Philadelphia to in 2003 after coaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He spent three years as an assistant coach at Penn, then became the head coach in 2006.  Throughout his tenure, Coach Lane has hoped to create a sense of community on his team.

We want an individual who is passionate about academics, passionate about rowing, and who really wants to be at Penn. At the end of the day it has to be the best fit for both the recruit and for us.

 “I expect a lot from my athletes!  I love this sport for what it has given to me, and I try to impart that same impact on the Penn Women.  I will at times use humor in my approach to getting the most out of the athletes, however, I have extremely high expectations in terms of work ethic and setting out to accomplish one common goal. My ultimate goal is to not only win a lot of races, but also ensure my athlete’s graduate from Penn being better people!  Two of my greatest joys are winning on the water and when my former athletes come back to share their experiences in life, and how rowing has impacted them.  Knowing you have impacted these women to not only be great athletes but also great people is a really special feeling.”

Part of building that group, Coach Lane explains, is finding an excellent freshman recruiting class to boost the team’s speed and add to a positive team dynamic.

“We are always looking for the best fit.  We want an individual who is passionate about academics, passionate about rowing, and who really wants to be at Penn.  At the end of the day it has to be the best fit for both the recruit and for us.  We want to find the athlete that will not only move boats faster but also one that will be a great teammate.”

Coach Lane also touches on the type of high school athlete he tries to avoid:

“In most cases it’s not just one or two things that would turn us off of a recruit.  It would be a combination of factors.  Grades are obviously important.  We want those who excel in both testing and in the classroom.”

That is to be expected, and Penn gets to see plenty of high-caliber recruits each year. Ambition has its dark side, though, as Coach Lane points out. He wants to find student-athletes of high integrity who handle themselves without intermediaries and without embellishing their accomplishments.

“Not being honest in this process…really annoys me.  We are honest in our approach to recruiting and I expect the same in return.  Also, I want the student athlete communicating with me and not her parent.  I am looking to get to know what type of character she has, and by only talking to the parents, I have a warped perspective.”

"We take our time to ensure that we have the right fit for our program.”

Coach Lane maintains that a good team fit is of utmost importance. “I believe that is why we have a very high retention rate with our recruits,” he says. “It is due to the fact that we take our time to ensure that we have the right fit for our program.”

Once he has the right kids, Coach Lane loves watching them grow throughout their years at Penn. He explains: “one of my favorite traditions is taking the seniors out to dinner on spring break.  It is a chance to see them in normal clothes, and talk to them about normal things.  Inevitably the conversation flows back to rowing, which is what I would expect, as this sport is a little sick and twisted.” He also recalls the nostalgia of watching them graduate. “All students walk right by our office as they file into the football stadium for graduation.  I love seeing my graduating seniors walk by with huge smiles and tremendous joy on their faces.  I even had the pleasure of walking with my athletes in 2009 when I graduated with a master’s degree from Penn.”