|Year:||Class of 2019|
It’s rare to see someone improve an already solid nomination after being selected for a hall of fame. Jason Steele did just that when he was named the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA) Division III National Head Coach of the Year after the Engineers took second at the 2019 NCAA Division III Women’s Rowing Championship in Indianapolis.
Arguably more impressive was the program’s debut on the international stage as Kinsey McNamara ’19 competed for Team USA as the only Division III representative at the Under 23 World Championships, where she helped the eight win a bronze at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Fla.
No stranger to national accolades, the 2018 Joy of Sculling Women's Collegiate Coach of the Year collected his third NEWMAC Coach of the Year honor in 2019, boasted 10 CRCA National Scholar Athletes, featuring the NCAA Division III Elite 90 award winner Sarah St. Pierre, and two CRCA All-Americans.
As the first head coach of women’s rowing after its inception as a varsity sport in 1999, WPI's rise to prominence began immediately upon his arrival. WPI has consistently ranked among the nation’s top DIII Rowing teams. In 2004, WPI’s varsity eight was ranked second in the nation, missing the country’s top slot by less than one second.
“Jason Steele has at least 20 metaphors for every aspect of the rowing stroke,” remarks Hall of Fame rower Jessica McAlear ‘04. “He says it’s his job to convey the correct movement to the athletes, and if one metaphor doesn’t work for one athlete, he’ll use another, until everyone understands. The current generation may be too young for this pop culture reference, but a favorite example from my days was Jason describing the Laverne & Shirley intro opening sequence in the Miller Brewing Company, comparing the moving beer bottle line with the moving water along the boat.”
The past two seasons have been banner years for the Crimson and Gray, having finished in the top three at the national regatta both times. In all, the varsity eight was 33-0 in the 2019 spring regular season, including an upset of eventual national champion Bates, and was ranked No. 1 for three weeks. The NEWMAC Champions and runner-up at the New England Rowing Championships were third at the Head of the Charles. The triumphs this past spring helped WPI sweep all three cups contested on Lake Quinsigamond, including the Barbara Grant Donahue Cup versus Williams, Connecticut College, and Simmons. It was only the second time the Engineers have earned the cup and the first time since 2004.
Jason has boasted a pair of CoSIDA Academic All- Americans, including Hall of Fame inductee Jessica McAlear, who headlined the Engineers lineup in the early years. At the conference level, the program has exceeded 100 Academic All-NEWMAC laurels.
A local product from Hudson, Mass., Jason rowed scholastically at St. John’s and collegiately at Emory, helping start the program in Georgia. After graduation he stayed involved with the Eagles, serving as head coach from 1994 to 1999 and was instrumental in the planning and construction of Emory’s boathouse, which is named in his honor on Stone Mountain Lake. Jason and his wife, Sara, live in Princeton with their 7-year old daughter, Elise.