Scholastic Nationals took over Cooper River as Memorial Day weekend arrived In New Jersey, and it was definitely easier to get to Camden then to any beach destination on this unofficial start of summer - and what rewards came to those willing to hang on the brush-covered shore of the Cooper race course! Lots of fast racing, great parents, dedicated coaches… it doesn't get much better than scholastic regattas, even without a boardwalk.
Saturday afternoon finals were on ambitious time schedule, but manageable with existing calm conditions. This is one of those regatta with broad categories and an uncertain award schedule - if row2k missed talking to crews it was likely due to crossing over interviews at the awards pavilion above the course - but great racing and congrats!
Belen Lightweights (and one Heavy sculler)
One of the most impressive results of the day was the Belen Jesuit School (Miami, FL) sweeping the Lightweight Men's categories: LM4x, LM2x, LM8+, and LM4+. If you consider the fact that their single sculler Hector Formosa - Murias is also a lightweight but won the heavyweight event by open water, well, you can see how successful this program is at developing young lightweight rowing athletes.
"We have been trying to win this event (LW Men 8+) for five years!" says 5 - year Head Coach Yunian Cabrera of Belen's quest for gold in the LW Eight.
"We finally won it; I knew they were ready," he explains while holding his stack of plaques - five - that will return to his school. "At the 1000 they were ahead, but they had to maintain that lead, they were at a 36 and in the last 250, they went to the 40s. To race, you have to respond," and the crew's aggressive response to a move by St. Joseph's Prep was enough to win by 4.5 seconds over last year's winners.
"We train for 2k's, but States (FL) a month ago were 1500," says Formosa-Murias, a Belen senior lightweight who will be going to Georgetown in the fall. "I try to lead off at the start - set a precedent," he says. Formosa - Murias was ahead for his entire race, but says the last 500 is "pure adrenaline - I empty the tanks before that, but even if I am ahead, I still get the splits down." The Florida sculler will be rowing a single at Youth Nationals in Florida, and he will be joined by his team mates who have also qualified.
Like the Belen lightweights, this regatta was in many cases won by crews that dominated certain categories. In sculling events, it is often Conestoga High School (from the western 'burbs of Philadelphia, PA) that takes a few trophies. In the Lightweight Women's Quad, a crew with three returning from last year's winning crews (although not all in LW event last year) took gold again for Conestoga.
"We were trying to make it the best race of the season, because it is our last," said Angela Farkisian, bow of the boat. "We went out our hardest," she explains, and her stroke Amy Connell added that amounted to a 41 - 42 rating for the beginning of the race, pulling away from the pack at about "37 - ish" at around the 500, and then bringing it down to 33 - 34 for the body of the race. "We always want to push for more open water," said Connell, a senior going to Boston University. This lightweight crew won by plenty of open water - 9 seconds. The crew is coached by Paul Coombes.
Also from Conestoga and training from Bachelor's Barge Club on Boathouse Row is a boatful of novice rowers who clearly were well - instructed by Conestoga Frosh Coach Matt Freyhof. "We were fortunate to use Episcopal Academy's tanks this year, because it ended up that we were two weeks late getting on the water due to ice," Freyhof said. That helped the crew, which had only one rower with any experience as the season commenced, get some much needed technical instruction. "We used to row a race at a 26 - 28," said one of the Conestoga rowers, "this race we settled at about a 36." The crew was pressed by another local team, Agnes Irwin in nearby Villanova, PA, for the length of the 1500 meter course.
… and Saratoga
Another team with a winning streak is Saratoga (upstate NY) - and this one shares a shoreline cheer with Conestoga. The two crews have parents and supporters who shout: "Toga!" (Saratoga) and "Stoga!" (Conestoga) during the sprint, and unless you are in the middle of it, the added letter of the Conestoga cheer is really not discernable. Way to bring the Animal House to regattas!
Another linguistic coincidence for the Saratoga annual winners: Saratoga athletes are known as the Blue Streaks - and they have a streak at Scholastic Nationals. An example: lightweight double winner Emma Price has won four golds in four years at the regatta. Fellow seniors Clair Murphy and Max Lynch have a medal from each year as well.
Saratoga's Emma Price and partner Sam Duff won the lightweight double with what appears to be a fairly laid-back attitude. For her part, Duff must have felt pretty good going into the race with a three-time SRAA winner in the boat - even for an athlete who started late for Saratoga standards, as a freshman (Saratoga has a robust middle school program).
Price gave a race evaluation that reads like the engineer she hopes to be: "We did our start. It was pretty close at the start, but we started to pull away at the 500. We settled at about a 31 - 32, and continued to pull away." Both Price and Duff seemed unimpressed with their victory, except for the fact they raised their 'body of the piece' rating from 28 as the season started. They won by almost 10 seconds in a 1500 meter race - they should probably be impressed.
The Frosh Boys 4x was also won by Saratoga by a margin of four seconds - the crew that has been very consistent this year - winning at Stotesbury the week prior and all of their scholastic races this season. "We've all been rowing since 7th grade," said Tim Reed, bow. "This was just another race…a little bit of tension because it is Nationals, but we were prepared."
"It was awesome," said TJ Burke, two-seat. "We just put it all out there," said Joe Bokan. Stroke Payton Young shared their non - nonsense race plan, which is something like, "if you are not winning, go faster."
Don't Forget New Trier (Saratoga Didn't)
One Saratoga win was not by as comfortable a margin. As the Women's Varsity Eight crossed the line, New Trier's bow was "right there," and depending on your viewing angle, it was difficult to see who won - but it was Saratoga, for the second year in a row, by 2 tenths of a second. The impressive part was how Saratoga reeled in New Trier, as they half a boat length down in the final 300 meters.
"In the past we talked to the girls about 'being racers,'" said Coach Eric Catalano. "With this crew, we talk about rowing in the tunnel, visualizing rowing the race well, inside the boat, then coming out of the tunnel for the sprint." The crew came out that tunnel into a fierce sprint. Saratoga won this race last year, and it is the first time in a decade that a Women's Eight has doubled. "It has been a short and intense spring. Our ice went out April 13, and we have taken our lumps this season," say Catalano (one of them being not qualifying for Youth Nationals).
"The theme of the year has been 'Courage - Honesty and Response - ability' and they showed a lot of that." This young crew with only one senior in Stroke Clair Murphy will finish their season at Canadian Schoolboys next week.
The New Trier Trevians always bring a great squad to Scholastic Nationals, and a good team's foundation is the frosh athletes. The team from north of Chicago, IL, is a contender in any race, but this year brought home the trophy for Men's Freshman Eight by two and a half seconds. Coached by Josip Stolar and Michael Wyman, it was not a smooth path at SRAAs.
"In the heats, they felt they didn't row well," said Stolar. "But in the semis, they did what we talked about after the heats, and won their semis with the fastest overall time going in to finals.".
Coxswain Duncan Healy talked with stroke Peter Chatain, and during moves inspired the rowers by telling them to match up with the other boat's same seat, and pull harder than them - as in "pull harder than 5-seat!" An unusual motivator, but these are freshman. Said that 5-seat Patrick Spillane:"I think this race we had a strong start…other boats were with us, but in the end…we were in front,.". Ah, the simplicity of freshman rowing.
Arizona and Michigan in the sculling boats
Two crews virtually unknown in the Northeast took the Women's Junior Varsity 4x and Varsity 2x. Xavier Prep from Tempe, AZ won the JV 4x by four seconds, and held the Arizona state flag in front of them during the award ceremony - clearly taking a lot of pride in their state of residence.
Their Coach Emily Burkett says there are only four rowing programs in the state, so they compete frequently in California. This race, only their fourth race this season, was shorter than their normal competitive distance of 2000 m. "I basically called random power - 10's when I thought we needed them," said bow seat Camille Hays. "I didn't tell them about the other crews…we are our own crew and we do our own thing."
The winning Women's 2x of Sophia Klein and Melanie Hampton is with Skyline Crew from Ann Arbor, MI. Coached by Kit Bennett, their program started only six years ago. With a harsh winter everywhere, it was worse in Michigan.
"We did a lot of erging," said Klein. The girls have not specialized in sculling this season, and row fours and eights most of the season—winning their regionals in a four. But their Coach said, "we brought 6 scullers here (their JV Quad was second to Xavier)—we know the Philly schools can dominate, we wanted to see how a Midwest crew could do," he explained.
For this race, they were second to Cathedral Catholic until the 500. "We did our normal race plan, but adapted it," said Hampton. "We normally go about a 31 – 34," said the girls. "But they lifted it to a 39 at the 500," said Coach Bennett. That higher rating was just what they needed to pull ahead for the trophy.
Boys Varsity and JV Eights
The National Cathedral Crew from Washington, DC took the JV Eight by two seconds over Montclair High School from New Jersey. "Our intent is for this crew to mature over the course of this regatta—to be in situations where they are down and have to fight back," says their Coach Greg King. "It was a lot about composure and internal focus. We talked about building the body of the race; that is where you win the race."
A DC - area neighbor, Gonzaga College High School, won the Men's Varsity race to close the regatta schedule on Saturday. The Purple Eagles, who had recently won the Stotesbury Cup for the fourth consecutive year, is really plowing through the championship season with power.
"The euphoria of winning four times was great, but it is also energy - sapping," said Gonzaga Coach Marc Mandel. "We had to put that behind us for now, as finals were this week and they needed to focus."
As they prepared for Scholastic Nationals, Mandel said they kept it low volume, minimal pieces, to be in tune with the pressure of finals and the physical demands ahead of them. The Gonzaga crew won each step - heats, semis, and the final - and the coach was more pleased with how they did it than anything.
"We kept it at a lower rate, relaxed, to manage energy expenditure," he said.
"We had a hitch in the start," said senior 7-seat Quillan Giffui of their final. "We hit a buoy three strokes in, and had to fight very hard the first 500 - we were a 1/2 length down (to St. Alban's) after the opening sequence." They had to race at a 37 this time around, and at the sprint, "We turned on the jets, and went to 38 - 40," said Giffui.
The result of the jet power was three seconds over DC - area neighbor St. Alban's. Although they row on a different body of water - Gonzaga rows on the Anacostia, St. Alban's on the Potomac - there is a polite respect for the other school, and the crews met to shake hands after the race. Gonzaga will now take a deep breath and move on to Youth Nationals, then Henley (UK), so a lot more racing for the boys (and if tradition prevails, a lot more hand - shaking).
Another fantastic Scholastic Nationals in the books, congrats to all the crews; and for those going on to Canadian Schoolboys, Youth Nationals and Henley, a little advice from a freshman rower: "if you are not winning, row faster."