Nearly 500 crews met the roiling water of Fish Creek in Saratoga Springs for the New York State Scholastic Championships last weekend, and those who mastered the rough water were also those wearing the "NYS Champion" shirts later in the day… maybe. Roiling conditions that eventually caused the regatta to be shut down also created extreme havoc at the starting line for several races (a stretch of racing that came to be called "the infamous page 5" of the seven-page results sheet).
If this had been a regatta with no other consequence but missing the podium and some hardware, things may have been forgotten and forgiven by the time the bus door swung shut. But, it was a qualifying race for Scholastic Nationals on Mercer Lake in New Jersey May 22nd and 23rd. As it went, that "page five" patch of events resulted in nine protests over seven races, a storm of sometimes heated discussion on the shore and beyond (things made the leap right into email, of course), heaps of confusion, and ultimately a decision to throw out the results of most of the race.
It took a couple days and some officially filed grievances to sort this one out, but in the end, officials decided to use the times from Saturday racing to qualify for Scholastic Nationals. Phrases like "no competitive integrity" and "restoring the competitive fairness" come up in discussions and e-mails Monday and Tuesday, until finally it was decided to not touch those Sunday races with a 12-foot oar. Officials made the best decision possible under the circumstances, and many crews happily advanced to the next level.
Can we talk about the rowing? It is a shame to have to sift through the mess that was Page 5 of a 7-page finals schedule only when more than 100 races went off without a hiccup-conditions or officials-over the weekend.
During those races, there are always a few little episodes worth reporting, for fun. For example:
- At 500 meters into the race on Saturday, a Junior 4+ stopped rowing, and the coxswain raised her hand for the referee. Her plea (apparently recalling the equipment breakage rule, but not the number of meters or the pieces of equipment) "My cox box broke!"
- A double flipped (they were OK) and while dragging the boat off the course, the riggers were caught up in the buoy. This was a bit of a mess. Losing time and patience, the referee snipped the buoy line and the huge orange orb stayed in the launch for the remainder of the regatta.
- One ambitious rower tried to fix a popped oar lock…during full pressure at the body of the race. He was ejected from the boat. Gotta' credit him for trying.
- Heard from the aligner on Saturday: "coxy get your head up!" (apparently she wasn't tuned in)
- Later, from same aligner: "We are ready to rock!" a few minutes later: "We are ready to roll!" Now that is enthusiasm…but that was before the fateful page 5.
- A coxswain, about 1000 meters in the course, her crew then-last in a final: "faster, faster, faster (ad infinitum)!" A master of the obvious, that one.
So the racing had its lighter moments, and its very competitive ones. Case in point: local hot shot Ian Fisher from Shenendehowa HS in nearby Clifton Park, NY has dominated the singles races locally, but it is always fun to see an ever-expanding "circle of influence" Like former Shaker rower Austin Meyer who owned this race in 2008 and went on to top-3 finishes at every championship race that followed, Fisher has a confident, technically precise stroke.
In the rough water Sunday afternoon, many sturdy rowers were vexed by the conditions. After a fast start, Conrad Dobrowolsky from VSculls, hit a couple swells and was listing to port at every stroke, and he lost a slight lead. Fisher, rowing steady, long, and with great control, raced his own piece with little stability problems. It should be enjoyable to watch this Navy-bound rower take on his next challenge.
In the Men's Senior Varsity 8, perennial NY State Champions Chaminade High School looked the part at the first 500 meters. The downstate (Mineola, NY) crew has won the overall boys state points trophy often on the shoulders of the heavy 8 wins (they have won 4 of the past 5 years in the 1V). Their school motto of "fortes in unitate" ("strength in unity") really speaks to rowing. A coach could be all over it, that is great material. But after the first 1200 meters, their motto met the headwind, and they struggled with regrouping. They went out at a high rate (38?) and looked good doing it, but 2 lanes over, Canisius High School from Buffalo had settled to a 33. Though behind a few seats, they were lower and longer. A smaller crew than the Chaminade powerhouse (observation, no scale involved), they did have a nice swing (ouch, that is the "unitate" Chaminade was striving for!) and moved ahead of the pack rowing at a 34. There goal, according to engine room residents Bryan Gannon (4), Jamie Hamp (3) and Erik Schiferle (5) was to "stick to the plan" established by Coaches Tom Flaherty, Kevin Flaherty, Paul Cumbo and Nick Zinter. The plan? To row well together, and not get too racy off the start.
This is pretty simple stuff, and sometimes risky as the other crews might just ramp it up rather than slow down. But, as it turns out, they executed their plan without it involving the other boats. "We just had to focus on the goals within the boat," said Allan Amico, 7 seat of the winning crew. The other lanes just went along with it. Kudos to Canisius, who not only dethroned Chaminade in the 1V Men's 8, but also took the Crimson and Gold overall points trophy for men by winning the Lightweight 4, the Lightweight 8, the 2V8 and the 1V8. Many of the seniors in the boats had no idea the victory they achieved, they were just really happy to have a win and good food at the tent. Coach Tom Flaherty, who has been at Canisius for 15 years, says "we have a lot of swing in that boat." The boys, who have not been on the water very long (they live in Buffalo after all), are heading to row the on the Welland in Canada next week (where the age and level categories are different so coaches can fidget with the line-ups) and on to Scholastic Nationals in NJ, and then Youth Nationals on Harsha Lake in Ohio. "If you row together, you row fast," says Flaherty, who hopes his upcoming race lineups have the swing that his 8 had on Sunday.
The girls 1V8 had a similar reign of dominance, but in this case, the athletes are still wearing the crown. Host team Saratoga has won the Girls 1V8 for 9 of the last 10 years, and had every intention of keeping the Mohawk Valley Cup for Girls Senior 8s. They were aware of their status, unlike the happy campers at Canisius. So when Buffalo crew West End had a speedy heat time Saturday, the Saratoga girls had to figure out what would work best to develop power on Sunday. "We focused on power through the middle of the race," said Emily Krison, senior coxswain and her third year in the 1V. "At any rating, we needed to get more power per stroke," she explains, and Coach Eric Catalano concurs. "We wanted to focus on making every stroke count," he said. To amend that, considering the conditions, he added they needed to be "forgetful rowers" on Sunday. That is, when they had a bad stroke (which happens in wind and chop) they had to forget about it and move on. "The most important stroke is the next one," concludes Catalano, who has not only this fast V8 who won the finals soundly, but an as-yet unchallenged Senior Quad looking ahead to Northeast Regionals, Scholastic Nationals, Canadian Schoolboys, and Youth Nationals.(note that the Sr Quad won their race by about 50 seconds). For the seniors of this lot, it was a victory, and one that turned a bit emotional when family and friends met them at the dock. "This was their last race on Fish Creek."
Racing concluded Sunday after the Boys 2V raced down after one of the ugliest floating starts of the day. The battles that continued on the shore had many coaches behaving badly, officials not wanting to be pressed to make a ruling that would impugn their brethren, and some coaches who were just happy that 100 races went on with out a fuss. With a little hindsight, perhaps all the coaches will feel the same.
Still a lot of racing to go in the Scholastic season! Check out the gallery for this race that was posted on Wednesday May 13.