A varsity program since 1975, the Penn's women's rowing team has made the most of that time, capturing five Eastern Sprints championships and sending ten coaches or athletes to the Olympic Games. While its varsity status nears the 40-year mark, the birth of the Penn women's rowing team can actually be traced all the way back to 1934, when the sport was offered and taught as a class.
In 1967, the program returned to campus as a club sport, and then was promoted to varsity status in 1975 to become the 14th women's varsity program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Penn quickly made a name for itself in the rowing world, as the varsity four with coxswain captured Eastern Sprints titles in both 1976 and 1977. Led by captain (and Penn Athletics Hall of Famer) Hope Barnes, the 1980 Red and Blue crew went undefeated in cup races (9-0) and won its first varsity eight EAWRC Sprints title at Lake Waramaug. The Quakers also won the Governor's Cup that year, as the second varsity eight finished third in the Grand Final and the novice eight boat finished fourth overall, giving Penn the most overall points in the competition. The Red and Blue were a dominating force during those years, compiling a 50-18 record from 1976-82 including an 18-1 stretch from 1979-80.
While rowing is definitely a team sport, Penn has been fortunate to have some superb athletes pulling the oars over the years including Olympians Barnes (1980 and team captain in 1984), Karla Drewson (1980), Susan Francia (2008 and 2012), Sarah Garner (2000), Joanne Iverson (team manager in 1976), Barb Kirch (1984 and 1988), Jennie Marshall (1988), Lisa Rhode (1984), Laura Staines (1976), and Carol Whipple (1980 and 1984).
In 1980, the U.S. Olympic Team boasted three Penn rowers, while two Quakers were members of the Eastern Championship Eight. In 1984, three rowers made the U.S. Olympic team and another was named to the Canadian squad. Rhode also represented Penn well, as she won a silver medal while competing for the 1984 Olympic squad. At the 1988 Olympics, Kirch rowed to a sixth-place finish in the pairs competition and Marshall competed in the quad.
Most recently, Francia's gold medals with the United States women's eight in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) have helped the University of Pennsylvania continue its reign as the only school in the nation to have at least one representative on every U.S. Summer Olympics Team since 1900. During Head Coach Mike Lane's tenure, the Quakers have also had three student-athletes represent Penn on the U.S. Junior National Rowing Team.
The Quakers have regained the current in recent years, highlighted by the program's first NCAA Division I Rowing championship appearance in 1998. Since the inception of the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA) awards in 1999, Penn women have been honored three times with All-America honors, 38 times with first- or second-team honors in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and 25 times with Scholar-Athlete recognition.
Under Lane, the success has started to come back on the water, as well. In 2008, the varsity eight had its best finish at the EAWRC Sprints since 1982, finishing fifth, and they repeated that finish in 2010. In 2007, Penn finished fourth in the team standings, and earned two medals including gold with a win the grand final of the second freshman 8 -- the Quakers' first Sprints title since 1983. In cup races, Penn won the Orange Challenge Cup consecutively in 2011 and 2012, after having not won it since 1995.