The 2010 iteration of one of the oldest regattas in the country, The Scholastic Nationals Regatta (formerly the Schoolboys Rowing Association of America regatta or SRAA) was held in a fittingly historic town. With the Victorian-era Saratoga (Horse) Race Course just 1 miles from the regatta course and the confounding bridge that thwarted progress to the parking area; Saratoga seems an appropriate venue for an event that holds on to the tradition of the sport like a child to a cherished blanket.
The first Schoolboys Rowing Association of America regatta was held in 1935 and as the name suggests, Schoolgirls were not holding oars at the time. The women’s sports revolution in the 1970’s (Title IX was a product of this) changed the landscape for the regatta in 1974 and the name in 1976, when it became Scholastic Nationals Regatta. Fast forward to 2010, and the girls, decked in the ‘de rigeur’ attitude tanks, only know a level playing field (or body of water). History lesson concluded....onward!
The Saratoga 2k and 1.5k course has been growing as a race venue thanks to SRA leader Chris Chase’s hustle, and with NYRA (New York Racing Association, that also runs Belmont and Aqueduct Horse Racing tracks) struggling to pay the bills for another season on Union Avenue, Saratoga Rowing Association may bump the horse track or Skidmore College from their lofty positions as the entities with the largest economic impact on the community. That said, the local law enforcement really supports the efforts on Saratoga Lake, directing buses and parents with load of food and camp chairs to the proper location—mostly with a smile. The SRA parents have similarly earned some props from regatta officials. Said one referee to an SRA course marshal: “you all should come with us to every regatta.”
Binoculars are still needed at the course, however, and is does not have the intimate race experience that scholastic parents enjoy at Cooper River or Schuylkill. Spectators can see about the last 700 but the angle can cause some uncertainty....”who won?” (The finish line is a deep diagonal from Saratoga Boatworks to Lee’s Park, a trailer park taken over for the event) Answer to that: check racetrack, results were up in split second, and the screen near the Productions East Video truck gave a closer look too. Productions East made its name providing video for the A-rated horse show circuit from New York to Kentucky to Wellington, Florida, and have taken on a new sport in rowing.
An ailing bridge that spans the junction from Saratoga Lake to Fish Creek was reduced to one-lane recently, and the completion of the repairs is not expected for years. This forced coaches to plan for early arrivals, and residents on the SRA side prepare to so they don’t have to hit the convenience store on the opposite side over the weekend. Said one Regatta View resident (a neighborhood that overlooks the course):”Hey, Stewart’s is my other refrigerator and I can’t get there!”
Saratoga does provide the charm some other venues lack, and the town was full of young teams in packs on Broadway in the evenings, the pleasant weather making it all possible. For many it was a vacation, rowing-style.
Deep Talent, All-Around
As heats and semis progressed through the day on Friday, it was clear that row2k would be interviewing many of the same crews from Stotesbury Regatta in Philadelphia two weeks prior, with some of the stronger crews from outside the Northeast challenging throughout the afternoon semis. Boats from New Trier (IL-who have made a name for themselves at this regatta in years prior) Lake Brantley, (FL, who looked they may be spoilers for some perennial winners), Conestoga’s (PA) and Ursuline’s (OH) able scullers, Holy Spirit (NJ), Absegami, (NJ), St Ignatius (OH), Canisius; some of these names just kept arriving for a lane in Finals. (Apologies to those not listed; there was some fantastic rowing)
But amidst all the challengers listed above, there were a few names that lead the pack as they did at Stotesbury Cup May 15 in Philadelphia: Malvern Prep, St. Joseph’s Prep, Mount St. Joseph, Egg Harbor Township, Saratoga, who all earned more medals this weekend.
“You know how great it is to hear our name with all those other teams!” said Coach Bob Kerstetter of Egg Harbor Township Crew. They may consider themselves the least ‘elite’ of the crews in the winners circle on Saturday, but their dominance in the fours categories is certain. They won the Men’s Varsity Four, Men’s Lightweight Four, and the Women’s Varsity Fours, convincingly. Boats at Egg Harbor Township are a nod to their coaches: Coach Zachary Palombo, Coach Dan Welsh, and Coach Bob Kerstetter all have shells in their name thanks to a supportive booster club, who know how much the program has created opportunities for their children. Egg Harbor Township repeated their sweep of Stotes.
The Women’s Four had four seconds on the field, Woodbridge and Bishop Eustace just a beep-beep apart. “We worried about crews like Bishop Eustace who split their Varsity Eights and some of the Midwestern crews that we hadn’t seen... and Manhassett (4th ) has been fast all year,” said Coach Dan Welsh. He told his crew to go out and row hard for 210 strokes, and they should come out with a medal. Simple system if all could achieve it!
Some other sweeps continued for schools from Stotes. Mount St. Josephs from Flourtown, PA, cleaned up in the Lightweight Eight and Varsity Eight, the lightweights a full 10 seconds ahead of the field, with Holy Spirit in second, Winter Park third. “We’ve been racing against some of the same crews a lot during the season, but what we needed to do during this race to get the most out of it, was the bring our A-game,” said lightweight coxswain Maggie Rush, “we felt confident that if we did our best we’d get the result we wanted.”
The lightweights were on the shore waiting for the open weight girls to come down, with Head Coach Mike McKenna pacing back and forth behind them. After the Varsity won by two seconds, Coach McKenna, relieved but noticing the proximity of the other crews, said “Well Merion (3rd) and Radnor (2nd) have been picking up some speed over the past couple weeks (referring to the period between Stotesbury and Nationals) but we picked up a lot of speed too, especially by refining technique.”
McKenna (Mount St. Joe’s) also notes that launching from the Saratoga docks, across the finish line from Lee’s Park, the primary launch and recovery docks, made it easier on the crew as well. “There wasn’t as much distraction.”
A different take on that, courtesy of both Chris Chase of Saratoga, and Stuart Chase, Asst Coach of the Mount crew (unrelated), is that the Saratoga docks were “lucky.” Chris went through the list of boats that won from that dock, and came to the conclusion—“it was the lucky dock!” It couldn’t be that some of the most skilled crews on the water Saturday just happened to be sharing a dock, could it?
The Saratoga Freshmen Girls Eight has been winning all season, including their win at Stotes, but were still unsure of what the Midwest could bring to their home turf to face them. It brought St. Ursula (OH-2nd) and New Trier (IL-3rd), but not quite enough to pass this dominating crew. “Coach told us of a few crews that are fast that were coming here,” said Caroline Murphy and Katie Kolbe of the crew, but with their usual 3-seat Katie Hogan back in the boat (after an illness kept her out at Stotes), they were unbeatable. Kudos to a young crew that is very skilled.
A few Saratoga other crews of note that launched from the host’s “lucky” dock: a single that shoved off in an aging Van Deusen, circa 1988, with Ryan Allen from Ballston Spa, NY on board. Allen won the Varsity Single event by 5 seconds, ‘sometimes’ team mate Jon Braga from Glens Falls, NY in third, Jacob Gardner-Rosen from Friends Select in second.
Allen came up to the club team at Saratoga Rowing Association to row big boats, but had entered the sport as a sculler, like all younger athletes at SRA. Allen had been in a USRowing Development Camp at SRA three summers ago, when current Coach Steve Knapp was still working with Albany Rowing Club. When shake-ups in local team’s boards and coaches (including one that lead the winning Junior Double of Alex Loy and Ian Colpoys of Shenendehowa to Saratoga) brought all these skilled scullers who were also all in the Dev Camp with Knapp to SRA; a lot of things worked out.
When the SRA club Varsity Eight races, Ryan Allen is stroke. He practices with the middle school kids in a single prior to sweep practice, and the double-practice strategy has produced a solid rower.
Junior Double Loy and Colpoys are a unique mix of a lightweight bowman “who never loses” says his Coach of the unexpected dominate rower at a Development Camp years ago, and a ‘just over-LW’ stroke, who he says is a “beauty to watch (but is not always a ‘racer’).” They had a close victory with St. John the Baptist crew just behind them but a quick rush of powerful strokes at the finish insured that the ‘bowman who never loses’ could retain his street cred.
The senior double was won by Cincinnati Country Day School rowers Jimmy Stafford and Nick Bender, with North Allegheny and Pittsburgh behind. CCDS also produced the most recent Champ Double winners at the Head of the Charles, Peter and Tom Graves, who also won in a Trinity Eight at the Henley (UK).
While on sculling, Malvern Prep won the Lightweight Double and the Varsity Quad, this small talented team still has more racing this season; stay tuned says Coach Craig Hoffman. The Varsity Women’s race was won by a Ridgewood team of Maggie McCrudden and Haley Woodenshek with an open-water seven second lead.
St.Joseph’s Prep repeated a victory here, by gritting it out and keeping within the boat.
“We’re never really fast off the start, but if we can keep our heads we can pull it out,” said the St. Joe’s Prep stroke Dean Hill.
Coxswain Lou Lombardi concurs, their start was slow, but adds, “It was really the middle 500 when we moved...we did two 10’s and we got ahead.” The second place crew of Central Catholic from Pittsburgh, PA was 2 seconds back but a serious threat, Winter Park High School (FL) was 2 seconds behind them. Chaminade High School has been a player here in recent years; their crew came in fifth behind St. Alban’s. Former powerhouse crews from Canisius and Gonzaga did not make the finals this year.
Should it be mentioned that St. Joseph’s Prep also launched from the far side of the creek at the “lucky dock?”
Refs, SRAA, LOC
Scholastic Nationals brought some of the best referees in the business to the event, and they enjoyed the varied cuisine (breweries?) of Saratoga as a reward. One of the most seasoned referees on a launch on Friday and Saturday was Joan Sholl, who has been a referee for more than 40 years. (note: I wouldn’t suggest arguing with her, she knows her stuff). She has been rowing in Philadelphia since the 1950’s at PGRC, and an official since the 60’s. Her husband Jack Sholl is the founder of the “Golden Eight” who still competes, in their 70s and 80’s, in masters rowing events. It was a pleasure to sit with such a legend in the referee launch. Head Referee Dennis Smith and Lee West, organizer of the whole thing from the SRAA side, and Chris Chase of the LOC, put on a pretty good show. Thanks to all.