The first six crews of the 2018 US Junior (now called U19) national teams were named late last week; row2k talked to five of the six over the weekend, here is what they had to say.
Clark Dean won Jr. Worlds in the single in 2017, and his status as defending champion has not been far from his mind this past year. He won the trials early Friday morning , and has been careful not to rest on his laurels over the past year.
"There was definitely a different feel to my training this past year," Dean said. "The thought of losing the title I worked so hard for the year before is a scary one and keeps me working hard everyday. This past year I've trained more and harder than I ever thought possible for someone going to school 5 days a week and I'm supremely confident in my progress."
Now that he has been named to the team, Dean's approach to the next few weeks will not change much; asked about that tricky phase between the elation of winning trials and getting back to work to perform at Worlds, Dean will try to adjust his sights quickly.
"Having raced three times now at junior worlds and gotten a wide range of results, the most important thing is not getting complacent after making the team/qualifying," he said. "The goal is never to 'make it to Worlds,' but rather to represent the United States well by exceeding expectations created by past results and improving through the whole summer."
Dean also rowed in the U23 single trials, placing second to winner Ben Davison.
"Racing the U23 single this weekend was somewhat of a last minute decision," Dean said. "The U19 single is what I have been planning to race and obviously was the focus of the weekend, but going out and racing against more experienced athletes in the U23 event taught me a lot about how I react to pressure and tougher opponents."
Cassandra Reed rowed the women's single unopposed and was named to the team on Thursday morning to become the first member of the 2018 US team.
The winning women's pair of Camille VanderMeer and Sarah McErlean first rowed together at selection camp, where they were paired up for several practices and seat racing sessions.
"Our double felt particularly good, so we decided to give it a shot at trials," VanderMeer said. "We had similar styles to begin with, so we always rowed pretty well together, thought there are still things we have to work on. We think that what makes us click is that we get along really well,and at the end of the day we have complete faith in one another. We have each other's backs no matter what."
Camille VanderMeer and Sarah McErlean
The duo felt they had good boat speed going into the race, but weren't sure of how things would play out; in the end they had to row from the back of the pack in the first final, and subsequently adjusted for the second final to keep themselves in touch with the lead.
"We knew we had good boat speed going in, but we didn't know the relative speeds of the other boats," VanderMeer said. "Going into the race there were a few unknowns, but we were confident in our race plan and in each other.
"In our first final, we were down in the first half of the race, which is not a position we wanted to be in. For the second final, we wanted to make sure we were in contention for the whole race and do whatever we had to in order to cross the line first."
The Vesper men's double of Cooper Tuckerman and Kris Fisher had intended to try out for the club's U23 lightweight group, but when they took a head count of junior-eligible athletes at the camp, decided to row together in the double at trials.
"We both rowed for the Vesper U19 program last summer, so that's where how we knew each other before this summer," they noted. "As the spring progressed, we independently decided we wanted to take the step up and row for the U23 Lightweight program here at Vesper. Once we both arrived after Youth Nationals, we realized that we were the only U19 eligible guys on the team, so it just made sense to race a double."
The double took a few adjustments to make it go, but it was short work overall, they noted, helped along by intra-club competition.
"When we first rowed together it was a little tough to match angles because Cooper is so much more flexible than me, so I have had to stretch a lot more than normal," Fisher said. "But overall, it was fairly easy to match up as we're both 5'10', and natural high school lightweights."
"We both had our own habits from single sculling, but after the second or so row, we got our differences sorted out and it came together," Tuckerman added. "I think having such a tight group of guys on the team really helped with us finding our speed, as no matter what lineup went on the water, we always had our work cut out for us."
Cooper Tuckerman and Kris Fisher
The crew took a measured approach to the trials, making no assumptions either beforehand or as the weekend progressed.
"We had no idea of the Selection Camp boat's speed going into trials, but we had strung together several good pieces at IDR, so we were hoping to carry that over at Mercer. We were a little surprised by the (winning) margin, but also just to win in general, as the Selection Camp boats often win trials. Going into the second final, we expected them to go out hard off the line and rattle us, which they did. Our plan was to just stay relaxed in the first 500 and maintain connection, and then trust our fitness to carry us through the middle thousand. To an extent, we thought about a third final, but we were focused on the race at hand. We'd cross that bridge if we got there."
A couple days after the race, they were starting to refocus their attention on racing in the Czech Republic in August.
"It was a lot to take in overall," Fisher admitted. "I was overwhelmed with how fast everything happened in the time following the race. I'd say it's still soaking in that we get to represent the United States on the world stage."
"And now we have our work cut out for us as we're going to race a lot of boys bigger than us over in Europe," Tuckerman added.
The men's pair of Jack Gallagher and Gregoire Le Meur was the only trials winner to have come out of the camp, and pin their pairing and success on their experience there.
"At the Selection Camp in Chula Vista, the whole team started the selection process with the 'dinger derby,' which started with the grueling pair matrix," Gallagher recounts. "Later on in this process, we raced in pairs, fours, and eventually eights over a two day period. As luck would have it, Greg and I found ourselves thrown together randomly in a pair on the very first day. We quickly discovered that we had great boat chemistry and found that we rowed well together right from the start.
"We also soon realized we shared a fierce competitive nature as well," he added. "This immediate connection on the water allowed us to win the pair time trial on the first day. We also discovered that we have naturally complementary strokes to one another, which provided a uniform application of power. This quickly helped to bring efficiency and power at speed. Throughout many additional practices, we found that our boat kept getting stronger. This eventually led to us being the pair chosen to represent the JNT Selection Camp at the US Trials in New Jersey this weekend."
The pair then focused hard on trials.
Jack Gallagher and Gregoire Le Meur
"Flying out to Mercer, both Greg and I were focused on accomplishing one singular goal: to qualify our pair for Worlds," Gallagher said. "Since we had been lucky enough to establish such a solid connection on the water, we honestly did feel confident going into the first final, and that we had the speed necessary to win the trial. We rowed our own race, and were thrilled after the first final to find ourselves on top.
"In preparation for the second final, we wanted to close the door on the other boat. The two of us committed wholeheartedly to the piece, and we found ourselves up going into the last 1k. We knew then that we could get it done. At that point, we were fully focused on reaching the finish line first and solidifying our spot on the team."
The former PNRA rower was quick to reflect on the pair's success out on the lake where he had learned to row.
"Immediately after crossing the finish line, the first thought that went through my mind was the excitement of finally achieving a goal that I had set back in 8th grade when I started rowing as a novice at PNRA/Mercer, to someday become part of the US Junior National Team," Gallagher recalled. "Both Greg and I are thrilled that our first common goal has now been accomplished, but we know there is much more work ahead of us in order to get ready for the level of racing we will encounter in Racice. We are looking forward to heading back to Chula Vista this Sunday evening to spend the remainder of July honing our joint efforts on being the best U19 pair that we can be at this year's Junior World Championships."
The winning women's pair of Lucy Koven and Caitlin Esse had a superb trials, winning the time trial and Final 1 by over 10 seconds in each race, and the final by almost 17 seconds. The pair came together when both wanted to stay home for the summer but still wanted to train at a high level, Koven said.
"Our coaches thought that we would be very compatible athletically and mentally, so we got in a boat for the first time together in the spring once just to see if the pair could be an option," Koven said. "It was a really solid row that left both of us excited. While there were big things for us to work on as soon as the summer rolled around, the potential was there, so we decided to go for it."
Once the pair got together, they started working on blending into a crew, but some things fell into place fairly easily.
Lucy Koven and Caitlin Esse
"It definitely took some time and work to begin matching up," she said. "The one thing that clicked right away was our love for racing and sense of competitiveness; we just had to learn how to race together. As we continued rowing together we were able to begin to blend our strokes, both of us making small changes to find a happy medium. Although we have made some big strides in coming together, we definitely have a lot more we can work on."
Despite the time trial results, the pair refrained from getting ahead of themselves for the finals.
"We were both surprised after winning the first final," Koven said. "e had a good race, focusing on setting an aggressive pace and sticking with it. Going into our second final we knew absolutely nothing was a given. We were up against fierce competition so our goal was to go into the second final with the exact same amount of intensity and aggression as we did in the first.
"After we won we were very happy, but we both knew that moving past trials was only the first step. Our goal is to get as much speed out of the boat as we possibly can, and we know we have a few weeks of tough training ahead of us."
Asked about her fairly well-known last name, Koven noted that family can provide more than just emotional support – including some on-water sparring.
"My dad is a huge source of inspiration for me; I think there are definitely times when I have felt the pressure because of the success he had, but I am really fortunate to be able to share the love of the sport with him," she said. "He is incredibly supportive of my rowing, and has actually served as a great training partner for our pair, agreeing to do pieces with us on many occasions, with only some complaining."
The Junior/U 19 World Championships take place in Racice, Czech Republic August 8-12; follow along at row2k's complete Junior Rowing World Championships department in the days leading to and during the regatta.