URI club rowers make up third of Team USA at World University Games

Only school to place three student-athletes on men’s squad

KINGSTON, R.I. – Aug. 2, 2023 – When the rowing events begin Friday, Aug. 4, at the World University Games in Chengdu, China, the U.S. men’s team will have a strong University of Rhode Island feel to it.

Of the 10 Team USA rowers, three represent URI’s club rowing team: Billy Bourke of North Providence, Andrew Snow of Agawam, Massachusetts, and Joseph Connors of Simsbury, Connecticut. If Rhody crew club member Luke Briglin, who was also selected to Team USA, hadn’t suffered an injury, URI student-athletes would have made up 40% of the team.

FISU (International University Sports Federation) runs the event, with the rowing competitions taking place Aug. 4 through 8. They can be viewed online. The federation says it is the largest global multi-sport event for student-athletes, involving 12 days of competition, more than 10,000 student-athletes and officials from over 150 countries, 15 compulsory sports and up to three optional sports. It is broadcast to more than 100 countries and draws more than 300 million viewers.

“This is the first international competition for members of the crew club in decades,” said URI coach Tim Nesselrodt. “It’s our first participation in the World University Games. I think the last time the club had rowers compete internationally was in the 1990s.”

In 1996, crew club alumni Steve Peterson, Julia Chilicki-Beasley and Jason Gailes were members of the U.S. Olympic team, with Gailes winning a silver medal in the quadruple sculls. In addition, URI crew club alumnus John Riley competed for the U.S. at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. Women’s rowing at URI is now a varsity Division I team, which has raced at the Henley Royal Regatta in England and won multiple Atlantic 10 championships.

Among the athletes on the World University Games Team USA roster are those from Division I programs such as the College of the Holy Cross and Southern Methodist University and club teams at Purdue and Southern California universities.

Bourke and Snow left for training camp in Oklahoma on July 1 and then left at the end of the month for the games in China. Because Connors will race in the singles events, he remained in Rhode Island to train with Nesselrodt before heading to China.

“It costs $5,000 per athlete to compete at the games, and the club is picking up much of the cost for the three of them, but we’re also doing some fundraising and trying to get sponsors,” the coach said.

Nesselrodt characterized Bourke, Snow and Connors as raw talents.

“COVID-19 took a year away from them, so they are very hungry,” Nesselrodt said. “They’re just racers, and when the light goes on, they are just a different group. They have the fire that you need when you are on the water. I really value strong character, and that’s the most important part of succeeding. It influences how they train, how they work and how they motivate their teammates. Andrew was the club president last year, and Joe was the president before him. Billy is our team’s captain. They’re all leaders and they know how to represent our program and Team USA.”

Winning becoming a habit for crew club

While four members of the club were selected for this summer’s international competition, Rhody crew continued to win national titles. In the spring, the URI women’s novice 4 boat won the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s national championship, with a team made up of Riley Eldridge, Evyn Anderson, Santana Walters, Carly Tier and coxswain Ben Stamm. That title helped URI win the women’s small boat championship.

“Prior to this year, we didn’t have any women’s (club) championships, so the big mantra going into the national regatta was, we have to put up a women’s banner in the boathouse,” Nesselrodt said. “Now we have two.”

Last year, the club’s varsity 4 men’s boat won the national title, propelling the club to the men’s national small boat title.

“It has been another great year,” the coach said. “My assistant coach, Addison Murphy, did a dynamite job with the women this year, getting them ready and squared away.”