There is nothing quite like a spot on the Stotesbury dock on the Schuylkill during finals on Saturday afternoon. This is a championship regatta to be sure, but it is one that pulls on the heartstrings. Every winner is treated to stories and words of wisdom from the sponsor or the trophy or Schuylkill Navy member Clete Graham, the Stotes dockmaster par excellence. At the Stotes, hardware comes with history… and the rowers listen.
From the logistical standpoint, it is a monster. A couple weeks prior we all hear that the Dad Vails is the largest collegiate regatta in the country, but challenge any collegiate regatta staff to find a parking spot at Stotesbury. Scholastic regattas bring the parental units like no other - bring on the grills, it's time for the Stotes!
Frosh Eights start the afternoon, a fitting beginning to the race schedule. This younger set, unencumbered by finals and expectations, just bring joy to the dock. One of the strongest rowing programs on the Schuylkill, St. Joe's Prep, brought a talented crew to win this race.
"These guys have worked hard from Day 1," said Prep coach Dan Kilpatrick. "Thursday we had a great practice, the guys were smiling, it was awesome. It was like they were thinking 'I think we got it'.' It is one of the smaller groups I have coached, but they believed in me and what I was saying."
Said St. Joe's coxie Dylan Roback to his crew in the final sprint: "we gotta win this, Montclair is making a move!" Win they did.
The girl's Freshmen Eights have been won by upstate NY team Saratoga for 4 or 5 of the last years at Stotes (the coach didn't quite remember,) but this year it was not theirs. National Cathedral School from DC looked poised and powerful for such a young crew winning the race. Said Coach Rachel Gabbay in her third year of coaching at NCS, "we got these girls in March—none of them have rowed before—but the entire team worked-plugging away stroke after stroke."
For this particular race, she explains, "we basically broke it down to winning the race in the body," and that was an effective strategy. They looked confident and without rush as they came down the island to the finish.
"Saratoga has always been a team we respect," said Gabbay. The win by National Cathedral School was the end of their season, after less than 3 months of rowing for the girls in the boat. Looks good for the future at NCS.
In the girl's Junior Double, the family team of twin sisters Isabelle and Maria Wothe and Coach/Mom Barbara won this for Jacksonville Episcopal. This duo was a pair, not a double, until last week. They earned silver in the Southeast Regional regatta last weekend as sweep rowers, and then jumped in the double to train for Stotesbury. They are rowing out of Bachelors Barge Club on Philadelphia's Boathouse Row this week in preparation for SRAA Nationals in New Jersey as the week ends.
E.L. Crossley, a public school in Canada, always brings good boats to the Stotes - even when they have been on the water for only a couple weeks by the time mid-May rolls around. Jared Naar and Braedan Rush won the Junior Double by almost 10 seconds after limited water time in Canada. Their coach, John Ruscitti was never present at the docks during the school's many victories (more below), but clearly has an efficient training plan. "We have very minimal strokes 'off'" said Naar. "We train 7-8x a week, and we coach our bodies," he explains.
The Boys Junior Four was won by a crew made up of three sophomores and two juniors from local prep school Haverford. Says 3-year coach Jon Stepanik, "We had been rowing mainly eights for the Manny Flicks, but we found that this group made a good four; they just clicked."
The girl's Junior Four was won by Branksome Hall School, a private boarding school in Toronto, Canada. Coach John Heder says that this crew is '10's and 11's' (their grade levels in the scholastic vernacular of CA), and some of the girls were in the Junior Eight in Stotes last year that earned fourth.
"This year we won the time trial, won the semi… and then we had to manage expectations," says Heder. "This was an awesome race, they are strong girls, you really have to keep them contained and together, reel them in." They row the Canadian Schoolboys Regatta in two weeks, a 'local' race for them. But Heder, a teacher at Branksome Hall, says the crews from the school travel extensively to other regattas; to Saratoga, NY and even the British Women's Henley, to see what competition is like.
More frosh racing! - this time with two oars in hand. For the boy's Freshman Quads, it was Saratoga Springs NY that dominated this race for the win. "This group does what I tell them," says Coach Chris Chase, a unique quality when some frosh rowers are less dedicated and a little random.
Saratoga is way upstate NY, and has a February break. As their body of water is often frozen until April, they schedule a training camp near Orlando to prepare young crews for the season.
"They all went to Florida during break," he says, "and they trained hard and never questioned anything."
For this race, "There is no real race plan. The first bow ball over the line wins. If you are not winning, then do something different. That is the race plan," summarizes Chase.
In the girl's Frosh Quad, Episcopal School of Dallas won by almost 16 seconds over local sculling powerhouse Conestoga High School. Says Coach Cait Dunn, "They are talented girls; they won all their races in the South—it was a strong spring season."
The school joins with other Dallas teams to get a trailer up to the Northeast. The team trains on Bachman Lake, where they can barely get in a straight 2k row.
Another team that trains on the same small body of water, the Hockaday School of Dallas, won the girl's Lightweight Double. Emma Winsome and Elizabeth Michels won by 7 seconds, again over Conestoga. Coach Tim McCallister said the team has not come up for Stotesbury for five years.
"Our little puddle in Dallas has produced some great crews!" he exclaimed. McCallister thinks of the Schuylkill as home—although he has coached at Dallas rowing programs for years (Ursaline, Episcopal Dallas, now Hockaday) he was a coxswain for Penn lightweights years ago. For this double at the Stotes, he says "We have been working on synching the blade work and bodies," an exercise that clearly worked.
The Lightweight Boy's Double entry for St. Anthony's school was not wearing the team's bold yellow and black, as they were technically coached by Amadeusz Rowing Academy. St. Anthony's is a sweep program, and both John Karen and Tadeusz Chabowski prefer sculling. They have been training six days a week on Oyster Bay, and haven't lost all year. Says father and namesake of one of the rowers, John Karen, "Our philosophy is that sculling is more symmetrical—better to develop as a sculler." Words to live by for many.
One of the more enthusiastic dock celebrations of the day was for the girl's Junior Eight, won by Montclair High School over a strong Mount St. Joe's crew. Montclair is a New Jersey public school that has about 35 girls on the team, says Coach Lorna Rundel (the crews are also coached by Rubin Man).
"They have really been trying hard this year and we told them they could do it—they have been an exceptionally dedicated group," says Rundel. "These are the girls that want extra workouts…they run after practice, go in early to erg," she says of the crew work ethic. Their hard work paid off as they won every step at Stotesbury, and their excitement on the dock was contagious.
Just to bring a touch of 'local' back to the race schedule, St. Joe's Prep won the Junior Boys Eight. "It is the second year in a row we won this trophy," said Coach Bob Madden. "Last year with the storms and high water it was different; this year it is fulfilling to get it in good conditions."
At St. Joe's the junior eight is "brand new" every year—there are not repeat rowers in the event. They consider it a training boat for the varsity. In this Eight, there are seven sophomores and two juniors. "It has been an exciting day—other teams have beaten us this year—but the boys have worked their tails off. They do what I ask, and when it works, it is great!" concludes Madden.
The girl's Lightweight Eight was won by a team that has been consistent in this category, or any category of girls high school rowing—Mount St. Joseph's from Flourtown PA. In the past 4 or 5 years, however, Holy Spirit, a New Jersey powerhouse in the lightweight eights, has taken home the Cup. The race came down to these two crews just one and a half seconds apart, with the Mount winning.
"The girls put in the work to get better," says Mike McKenna, Varsity Coach at the Mount. There are eight juniors and one sophomore in the boat, so there is promise for next year also.
"This season there were three weeks when we couldn't get on the water consistently—it was frustrating for coaches, parents and rowers," said McKenna. "We taper a bit for Stotes, coast to SRAA Nationals (on Cooper River next week) then regroup for Youth Nationals. The toughest part of high school rowing is getting through these two weeks." Of the girl's race at Stotes, he says that they "keep it internal, the race plan develops on its own."
St. Joe's Prep came back to the dock for a win in the boy's Lightweight Eights by winning over a local team they have raced a few times this year—LaSalle College High School, by five seconds. The awards ceremony was slightly delayed and overshadowed when stroke of the Prep boat had what appeared to be heat exhaustion, or similar distress. Mathew Ix was unstable and a little gray after leaving it all on the course. He was treated by paramedics and went on the hospital, while Olympic rower Bill Belden ('76 and '80) delivered the requisite rowing story to the his team mates on the dock. Word from Mr. Ix via Twitter is that the hospital fixed him up, and he is recovered. The boy clearly knows how to empty the tank.
The Lightweight Fours category belonged to E.L. Crossley of Fonthill, Ontario, as the public school that trains on the Welland Flatwater Center in nearby London won both the boys and girls events. Without Coach John Ruscitti to speak of their success, the students were a little vague about their effectiveness on the water (but very supportive of each other, to be sure). Both Crossley lightweight fours won by very narrow margins—the boys by .12 seconds, the girls by .5 seconds with impressive sprints.
As the crew gathers on the docks for photos, one rower, when asked about how they do it, quipped "it is all about rituals," and then mentioned Tim Horton's. "Canadian stuff." With the menu of Tim Horton's, it's a wonder they are all lightweights.
Said coxswain Sophia Buzzel, the sophomore cox for the girls Crossley four, "they gave it all they had, they are a great crew, they do it for each other," of the sprint that earned them gold at Stotes.
The girl's Senior Double was won by the Ridgewood Crew cousin duo of Bridget Callaghan and Julia Hefferon, who said their plan was "to get out ahead." However, when, they were third after the first 500, they had the confidence that they had performed well in sprints throughout the season, so remained composed. In a summary of the simplicity of rowing contests, Callaghan said, "we went as fast as we could," and that was good enough to win by three seconds of the crew from Grimsby. The seniors are going on to row in college at Fordham and Fairfield.
Friends Select (Philadelphia) rowers Jacob Jamison and Emmett Orts are repeat winners at Stotes in different categories—last year they won the Junior Double, this year the Senior. "This is an exclamation point at the end of an up and down season," said Coach Colin McCallister (who incidentally is the brother of Tim, who coached the winning lightweight girls double from Hockaday, Dallas).
"This victory goes to show their resilience; they always come back," added McCallister. The crew is also coached by Megan Rowe. Orts and Jamison won at Cooper Cup, but had a bad race at Cities. This Stotesbury win demonstrates how the boys are able to pull it together when it counts.
Some names have endured decades in US Rowing, and for this Stotesbury, the Philly locals celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the singles event in 1965—one that included rowing legend and Olympian Jim Dietz, as well as former US Rowing Board Member Tom Feaster. Oddly, neither won the event that year—word on the street is that Neil Snyderman from Central High School did. Mike Cipollone, father of Olympic and National team coxswain Pete Cipollone and fixture at Philadelphia regattas, organized the anniversary row.
Deitz is one of the most celebrated athletes in US Rowing, having been on three Olympic squads and having won the Head of the Charles Championship single 7 times along with as several HOCR wins as a master, grand master and veteran. For the UMass Amherst women's crew that won at Dad Vails last week, he is simply "Coach." The anniversary row, and meeting the single sculling rowers on the dock, was more of the same Stotesbury charm that makes the regatta so special for so many.
Girls single winner Emma Jenevein of Espicopal School of Dallas has been focusing on the single since March of this year, says her coach Cait Dunn (note that Dunn, although coaching in Dallas, TX, rowed at Temple, a team that defines rowing in Philly). Jenevein placed second in the lightweight double at last year's Stotes, and this year is the first year since she started high school that she didn't compete in lightweight events. It was a good choice. She won the single by a decisive eleven seconds – score one for strength-to-weight ratio. "Emma is an extremely dedicated student and athlete; it is not hard to keep her motivated because she already possesses the willpower to do it herself," says Dunn.
At the Stotes, Dunn knew that for her athlete, the second 500 is always the weakest part. "I told her to make a move at the St. Joe's boathouse in order to start the middle of the race strong," says Dunn. "In the final she took that advice and stayed aggressive from St. Joe's to the island."
"When I reached the second 500 I took a 20," said Jenevein. "And '25ish'strokes past the wire I started my sprint." Jenevein is attending UVA in the fall and she hopes to continue rowing.
Senior boy's single winner Jim Palmer from Rye High School had a very tight margin to win the Kelly Cup at the Stotesbury Regatta by just .3 seconds over Nick Tavaras from E. L. Crossley (the very effective crew from the North. Palmer, who earned silver last year (by just .2 seconds this time) in the Senior Double, said "this race in particular has been a goal of mine since the season began."
"I really focused on the start," said Palmer. "I've struggled with the start in other races but have been able to recover, but in a race like this everything has to be perfect. I really rowed my own race for the first half.
"The sprint was a rush. At the top of the island, I had a bit of a lead. In the corner of my eye I saw Tavaras take a slight digger, so I took a move there and found myself up about a length," he explains. "I was hoping I could hold it but he started coming up really fast."
Although he was already at a higher rating than he normally goes, Palmer realized he had no choice but to bring it up a couple beats.
"Once I saw the grandstand I went for it with everything I had, which turned out to be just enough to send my bow across before Nick's," he said.
"I had no idea it was the 50th anniversary until I got on the dock; it was amazing to shake hands of the men who rowed the exact same course as I did, fifty years ago," he concluded.
Palmer will row a coxed four at SRAA and a single at Youth Nationals in Sarasota in June, and goes on to Princeton in the fall.
Like most regattas, the Stotesbury day really builds to the Senior Eights - but the sheer volume of supporters on the shore at this particular event, the cow bells, the cameras, the colorful tents... it is the beating heart of rowing, and the future of rowing (many of the athletes in finals are going on to fill collegiate racing shells).
In the girl's Senior Eights, Mount St. Joseph's Academy has won six of the last 11 years. It is certainly a case of "success builds success" at the Mount, as well as the consistency of the coaches in Mike McKenna and Megan Kennedy. This year, the Mount reclaimed their Lightweight Eight cup, and reaffirmed dominance in the Senior Eight category as well with a win over Manhasset High School by 2.5 seconds.
"We've had a successful season," says Coach Mike McKenna. "We had a pretty good shot at this but you never know until you get there." Five girls from last year's winning crew were in this boat, but with only three graduating (two rowers, one cox) there is still power and experience to continue the winning tradition next year.
On Saturday, the crew had a good start and got out ahead, then "extended their lead but not as much as I would have liked," says McKenna. In the post-race evaluation, suggests McKenna, the girls said they never felt as uncomfortable with the margin as it may have seemed from the shore.
They were able to hold onto the lead as they went to the island from Lane 2. They hadn't won the time trail, so there was some uncertainly going in—and not in a traditional lane for the "W." But with the fan base close and in shouting distance, the crew powered it out for the win. Of the three seniors in the boat, the stroke is going on to row at Harvard, and 4-seat Alaina Hunt at Penn. Stroke Stephanie Eble was "Best in Class" for the school, and in the last three years, the school's "Best in Class" has come from the sport of rowing. Coxie Sabrina Ghantous may continue coxing at Syracuse.
In the boy's Senior Eight, the winning tradition at Gonzaga continues. The Washington, DC crew has won the Senior Eight every year since 2012. It is worth noting that the last time a crew has won the event four times in a row was 1957-1960 for Washington and Lee--consistency in this category is not easy. The perfect combination of 9 boys at one school just doesn't happen every year, except it seems to have at Gonzaga. This year, a 2.5- second win over Winter Park, FL was what it took to secure the school's place in Stotesbury history.
In this year's boat there were three returners from the winning crew in 2014, as well as two brothers of winners from the 2012 crew. Way to go, coach Marc Mandel, for securing the genetic coding of winners at Gonzaga and Stotesbury.
For rowing enthusiasts on the shore, one of the most notable characteristics of this Gonzaga line-up was a unique double-bucket configuration (that is, rather than alternating riggers, there were two sets of same-sided riggers in a row).
"We switched to this line-up a few weeks ago after things seemed a little off, but it was lurking in the back of my mind for most of the spring season," said Mandel. "The boys seems to take to it right away—the only complaint is that it is not much fun for the bucket guys to row by sixes."
It was a fast configuration, clearly, and the crew is really just starting their championship season. Although Stotesbury is very important to the program, "we rarely, if ever, reference, 'winning the Stotesbury Cup' as a goal, but our guys have seen it done before by our program, and I'm certain the thought if lining up for the Stotesbury finals fuels their training and trust in what we are doing throughout the year," Mandel adds. Gonzaga goes on to the SRAA Championships on Cooper River next weekend, then to Youth Nationals in Sarasota in June, and continues on to the Henley, UK at the end of June/ early July.
After last year's flood-water conditions made the race about the struggle to just get to the finish line, this 2015 version of the Stotesbury Cup concluded with memories of what is important to the event: tradition, fast racing, and a good family vibe. Onward with the scholastic championship season, thanks Stotesbury for another amazing event!