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Westport, Weston Girls Row To Top College Programs

Westport's Louisa Freeman, left, and Weston's Jo Gurman are a successful duo at Saugatuck Rowing Club.
Westport's Louisa Freeman, left, and Weston's Jo Gurman are a successful duo at Saugatuck Rowing Club. Photo Credit: Tom Renner

WESTPORT, Conn. – Westport’s Louisa Freeman and Weston’s Jo Gurman developed an instant chemistry when paired as a two-girl team for the Saugatuck Rowing Club. Good results were also immediate, including a bronze medal at the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals in June.

Now, the high school seniors have something more to show for their success. Freeman has committed to attend the University of Michigan, while Gurman will attend the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers won the collegiate national championship earlier this year, and the Wolverines finished second.

“I had no idea how far I could go with rowing,’’ Gurman said. “I never saw myself as an athletic person when I was younger. But sometimes it’s not always about pure talent. I made myself an athlete.”

Saugatuck girls coach Chase Graham placed Gurman and Freeman in the same crew just this spring. They won the Northeast Regional championship before taking the bronze at nationals. The girls were second at the Head of the Charles, the signature race of the fall season. For a team that has been together less than a year, the results are astonishing.

“We just clicked right away,’’ Freeman said. “I think because we have a similar stroke. We just seemed to work together naturally.”

“We didn’t know what to expect,’’ Gurman said. “But based on what we were doing during the season, we knew we’d have a chance to medal at nationals. We knew what we had to do to get a medal.”

Both girls played other sports before turning to rowing. Gurman played basketball and swimming and tried track. “I was definitely not a runner,’’ she said. Freeman played basketball into her freshman year at Staples and also played softball. Once they made the full-time commitment to rowing, however, they quickly found the fast lane.

“Rowing is a sense of community, and it’s all friendly competition,’’ Gurman said. “We all push each other. You just get addicted to it. It was different than any other sport.” Freeman added: “You get things out of rowing that you can’t get in any other sport.”

Saugatuck has a history of strong junior rowers, but Freeman and Gurman set a standard that is unrivaled at the club. “A couple of years ago, we thought the seniors would be hard to replace,’’ Graham said. “But they not only replaced them — they have set the bar even higher.”

The fall season concluded earlier this month, and the girls are about to begin preparing for the spring season. Third was good for them last year, but they want more next June. " I think our team will have a lot of boats going to Nationals this year,'' Gurman said. "This could be our best year yet."

After Freeman and Gurman conclude their junior careers next summer, they will head off to become college rivals. “We’ll always be friends,’’ Freeman said. “We just have that kind of connection. I can't wait to see each other on the water because we'll just laugh and try to beat each other.”

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