Baldwinsville’s Alena Criss left with uncertain future after UConn cuts women’s rowing program

Local Sports

BALDWINSVILLE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – Baldwinsville’s Alena Criss did not have the ideal freshman season at UConn. The dream she had of being a Division I rower was halted this past March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was dealt another unexpected obstacle this past week.

“That’s the reason I came to UConn is to row and just to have that taken away, I didn’t even have a season this year,” said Criss. “And thinking that this upcoming year is gonna be my first and last season. It’s really devasting to hear that.”  

On Wednesday, June 24th, she and her UConn rowing teammates learned that this upcoming school year would be the last for the rowing team. In fact, UConn is also cutting the men’s swimming and diving, men’s cross country and men’s tennis teams due to COVID-19 related budget cuts.

According to the school’s athletics page, “this action was taken as part of the university’s overall budget reduction effort and allows athletics to meet a university directive calling for a 25 percent reduction (approximately $10 million) in institutional support by 2023.”

The school will also reduce its athletics operations budget and reduce the costs of scholarships.

Criss is not the only Huskies rower with ties to Central New York. Katherine Flecther was a senior this year and attended CBA, Erin Mordaunt went to C.W. Baker and was a freshman, and Chloe Ludden was a junior who also went to Baldwinsville.

The team is led by Jennifer Sanford, who graduated from Syracuse University and started her coaching career at Liverpool in 1993. She is the daughter of legendary SU rowing coach Bill Sanford. She has been at UConn since women’s rowing began at the school in 1997.

While some of the other programs that were cut had time to raise funds and awareness, the women’s rowing team only found out its fate the day before. A petition to save the rowing program was started by alum Katie Ullinger.

“We were the only women’s team cut and the school didn’t tell us we could fund raise and contact our supporting alumni when the all the other teams cut, they had time to fund raise and we didn’t. so i think that’s really unfair to us,” said Criss. “I just know that we have hope and were gonna fight as long as we can to save our program.”

Criss has even reached out to prominent UConn alumna, and fellow CNY native,Breanna Stewart and mentioned NBA champion Ray Allen has shown support for the program in the past.

The university is honoring scholarships for students who decide to stay at UConn. Alena would like to stay, but is keeping her options open to continue her collegiate career elsewhere if necessary.

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