When future members of the North Carolina women’s rowing team celebrate success, they’ll know exactly when it all started and exactly whom to thank.
Erin Neppel was hired as the team’s head coach last fall, and has been able to turn the program on its head throughout the early part of her tenure.
Though Neppel served as the assistant coach at Virginia for four years prior to coming to UNC, she is Tar Heel bred. A three-time All-ACC rower at UNC, she is one of only three All-America honorees in the school’s rowing history.
The team had been navigating rough waters after former head coach Sarah Haney resigned in 2019 following a University Title IX office investigation into the program. COVID-19 exacerbated a lack of clarity regarding new leadership, as the team fielded two different interim coaches.
Despite the turbulence, Neppel is resolute in her visions for the team. Senior rower Kate Burgess said Neppel and her assistants have defined a new standard of excellence since taking over the program.
“(Neppel is) great, and everyone that she brought with her when she came is great,” Burgess said. “She came in and immediately defined what the standard was. And I think we really needed that guidance, and it's really gotten us on the right foot to start transitioning into a new normal.”
Neppel brought three assistant coaches with her, including Jason Bernard, who previously served as the head coach of the men’s club rowing team at Clemson for 6 years and the novice coach of the women's rowing team for one.
Bernard described Neppel as a “tremendous leader” and noted that, together, they pride themselves on being transparent with the team.
“We're going to celebrate the wins,” he said. “We're going to be brutally honest whenever we know we're not measuring up. But, you know, we're all in this together.”