This fall, Ms. Melanie Onufrieff joined the Deerfield community as the new girls varsity rowing coach and a college advisor. “Coach O,” as she is often called around campus, came to Deerfield after coaching rowing at all levels from high schoolers to Olympic athletes on the United States National rowing team.
Ms. Onuffrief’s personal love for rowing began her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania when her roommate introduced her to the sport. After a swift introduction and instant attraction to the sport, Ms. Onufrieff made the University of Pennsylvania’s girls varsity rowing team as a freshman. During her four years on the team, she was selected twice for both the Hope Barnes Memorial Award for Excellence in Rowing and the Academic All-Ivy League Team. She also served as captain in her junior and senior year. Ms. Onufrieff graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor’s in biology.
During her coaching career, she served as an assistant coach at Princeton University from 1997-98, Rutgers University in 1999, Clemson University from 2012-14, and the Baylor School afterwards. Additionally, she took up head coaching positions at Cornell University for six years and Columbia University for seven.
In the novice Eastern Sprints Competition, she directed Princeton to silver and gold medals 1997 and 1998 respectively and coached the Rutgers boat that placed second the year after. In 2002, she led the Cornell varsity team to the NCAA championships and placed 14th overall nationally. She also brought the Columbia Lions to their highest ever national ranking at 19th in 2010 and helped coach the Clemson’s varsity 4+ boat that won the ACC championships in 2012.
Coach Onuffrief was honored with the Eastern Association of Women’s Rowing Colleges Novice Coach of the Year award twice (once with Rutgers and again with Princeton in 1998) and won the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year honors in 2002
Additionally, she was an assistant coach for the United States National Rowing Team during the summers of 2001, 2006, 2007, and 2008. She helped the the top four rowers win silver at the 2008 Senior World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria and the women’s U23 win gold at the 2007 World Championships in Strathclyde, Scotland.
Throughout her 21 years of college coaching, she also happened to work with rowers from Deerfield. Ms. Onufrieff was always impressed by the particularly “down-to-earth” nature that Deerfield students possessed. She wished “[she] could have more of them!”
With this experience in mind, she began contemplating the idea of working here at Deerfield. Upon arriving on campus, she instantly fell in love with the community and the “passionate” people within it.
She described the transition from college to prep school as “awesome” and in fact quite smooth because she had also coached college freshmen. Ms. Onufrieff commented, “
There is a similarity between what you see with a college freshman and what the high school student athlete” looks like. Coach Onufrieff recognized that “there is a good tradition of success” in Deerfield’s athletics program. As she aspires to maintain Deerfield’s historic competitive drive, she also wishes to cultivate a “team first” mentality amongst all members of the rowing program.
Additionally, she is interested in seeing the novice crew program grow and considers it essential to the overall development of rowers. “We don’t row very much here compared with what I know,” she observed. “Fall rowing gives those kinds of students a chance to really sink their teeth into it.”
Ms. Onufrieff has been very happy with her transition into the Deerfield community and is excited to work with her rowers this spring. Coach Onufrieff hopes to “be involved in not just the athlete’s life on the athletic side, but helping them to develop as a whole person.”