In varsity boat, sisters stick together

Sarah and Stephanie Barber are rowing in the same boat this year.

Rowing on the same team is far from a strange concept for Sarah and Stephanie Barber – the two sisters have been doing so for a total of four years, both at the high school and collegiate level.

Rowing competitively in the same boat, however, is different.

For the first time in their rowing careers, the Barber sisters are rowing with each other in the Varsity 8 “B” boat.  Considered to be some of the strongest members of the team, the pair has been rowing in the middle section of the boat, which is often deemed as the power seats. With sophomore Stephanie Barber in seat 6 and senior Sarah Barber in seat 5, they have rowed together for the past three races this spring season – the Murphy Cup Regatta, against Bucknell and Duquesne, along with the Knecht Cup Regatta.

“[There have been] surprisingly zero fights for having two sisters sitting next to each other,” Stephanie Barber said jokingly.

In a sport where the success of the entire boat is dependent on the correct imitation of every action of the person in front of each rower, Sarah Barber, who is also one of the co-captains of the team, said they both have been appreciative of each other’s criticism.

“Now that we are together, I don’t see it as any different as just my other teammates being in front of me,” Sarah Barber said. “If a girl two seats behind me sees something that I am doing wrong, they will correct me with my technique.”

“So it’s the same with me and Steph,” Sarah Barber added. “If I notice something with her, she notices something with me, I’ll just say ‘Oh, you are doing this wrong’ and she will say, ‘OK, thank you,’ which I think last year would have turned into a big fight. So, instead we have become more mature with things.”

Stephanie Barber said having her sister behind her in the boat makes her feel comfortable.

Along with power, coach Rebecca Grzybowski said the Barber sisters have some of the fastest ergometer scores on the team and a strong technical background, which can be traced back to one of the nation’s premier rowing high schools  – Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, N.J., where they established themselves as competitive rowers.

After Sarah Barber was introduced to the sport her sophomore year of high school, Stephanie said she was convinced by her parents to try the sport after seeing Sarah’s success.

Growing up, Sarah said, the two weren’t always close. They had separate friends and explored different interests.

Although their two-year age difference has always placed the two sisters in separate boats, their dad – Dave Barber, who has been an avid rowing fan since his daughters first began – said the sport has drawn his children closer together.

“To actually be in a race together, in the same boat, I think they have really enjoyed that,” Dave Barber said. “Being in a team, working together, it has developed their relationship even more and made them closer.”

That sentiment, Grzybowski said, has reverberated throughout the team. Even though Owls on the 55-member roster might not all be related, they still share a family bond that mirrors the closeness of the Barber sisters.

Athletic talent is an overarching gene that runs in the Barber family. Sarah said her father played baseball, football and weightlifted competitively, but would like to add another sport to his resume.

“[Rowing] is something that I wished they had where I went to school,” Dave Barber said.

Nevertheless, with two daughters excelling at the sport, his interest has not wavered.  Now that the two sisters are rowing in the same boat, Sarah said occasionally her dad talks about rowing together.

“He loves to say, ‘If you ever get your hands on a quad, I’d love for you to take me out,’” Sarah Barber said with a laugh.

Now might be the perfect opportunity.

Danielle Nelson can be reached at or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.

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