2013 Youth Nationals in Oak Ridge, Tennessee started with a fog delay and ended with clearing of the course "right quick" due to lightning as the Varsity Eights finished the day. The weather that bracketed the regatta was just that - aside from setting up the single scullers with some moody calendar photographs and the Eights with a 2-minute drill on the docks - the weather was not a player, just bookends for volumes of fast racing.
Women's Youth 1x
Community Rowing athlete Cicely Madden watched videos of Czech 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Mirka Knapkova Saturday night in her hotel. "Just for a little technical inspiration," she notes. The Czech athlete, like Madden, is not a giant of rowing athletes, but a winning technical sculler.
Whatever she gained from those minutes of video may have been a boost for race imagery, but it is likely her 5 years as a varsity rower prepared her more. Madden won the 1x, and said Coach Ethan Curran, "she made it look easy." She was pressed by her double-mate Elizabeth Sharis from Quad Cities, but Madden had control of the race throughout. She is familiar with Sharis, who won the double with her at the 2012 Head of the Charles, and was in the silver-medal winning Junior Worlds Quad in 2012 with Madden.
"A lot of people coach her…it really takes a village," says Coach Curren. The Buckingham, Brown and Nichols senior "goes to Narragansett to practice with them once a week, and trains with the Cambridge Boat Club masters men, too," he explains.
"I love the feel of the boat… in a single you really have to love it…but it is also fun to row with team (sweep) boats," says Madden. She saw the writing on the wall rowing with her scholastic team, (it said something like: "not going to a Nationals final") and decided the single was an opportunity to meet her goals of rowing in National Championships again.
Madden heads out to junior selection camp with Guenter Beutter in New Milford, CT this summer in hopes of selection for a Junior Worlds spot again.
Men's Youth 1x
"I row roughly 8 or 9 times a week," says Chase Burkholtz, off-handedly, as if this was not a particularly important fact. "Four-ish of those workouts are in a single, the rest with the quad," he clarifies. The Narragansett single sculler attends Moses Brown in his spare time, and strokes the Narragansett Quad also.
Committing the hours spent with oars in hand paid off for the Harvard-bound senior. As the fog cleared on Melton Lake, Burkholtz led the grand final down the course.
"I knew Chris (Wales, a lightweight from Seattle Rowing Center) was really fast," says Burkholtz.
Wales pushed him to make some strategic decisions about power moves which kept his placement consistent, winning by 5 seconds, similar to the margin by which his Narragansett crew won the Men's 4X as well (more on this later). A few years back, New Canaan athlete Andrew Campbell won the same double gold, and has continued as a Harvard rower and National team athlete in sculling boats.
In the summer, Burkholtz will be coaching and working at a sports club, and rowing with his friends, he says, pointing to quad-mate Eric Espisito.
Women's LW 2x
Norcal Crew won this lightweight event by more than 4 seconds with a spread-out field behind them. This was a crew row2k missed on the recovery dock, apologies to this talented double!
Men's LW 2x
With current partner Jack Ruske will be off to Cornell to row in the lightweight program next year, Brookline High School sophomore Jordi Cabanas will be looking for a new partner to row a LW double for 2014, and candidates may be lining up to row with the young Youth-National-winning sculler.
"Our expectation (in this final) was to have four lanes all close, coming into the sprint," says Ruske. "We changed our race plan this time," says the bowman. "We usually have a strong second 1000, this time we wanted to get out fast and get ahead of everyone at the beginning of the race." Their expectation of an even race was correct, but the race was for second, not first. The Brookline crew was ahead by 2 seconds, with the next three crews covering only the span of one second.
"We lost to East End in the semis," said John Gangi of Jacksonville Rowing Club; "they were faster than we expected." The Stanton College Prep Senior said that he and partner Jack Kelly (wow, what a rowing name) won the Southeast Regional qualifying regatta but they had not met the East End (NY) team to practice race strategy prior to Nationals.
Not to disclose any detailed race plan, but well…one of their measures was to take power-10's at the 400, 900, and 1400, shared Kelly, a junior at Ponte Vedra High School. Kelly also rowed in the A final of the single, earning a fourth to three seniors.
"We didn't really use those (10's) in the semis, we knew we had to at finals," explains Gangi, "We also tried to bump the rate up a bit from the semis," says the Univ. of Washington-bound athlete. The power moves put them just over a second faster than East End at the final. The race was really between these two crews, as they separated from the pack by a full 12 seconds.
Both scullers will be going to sculling selection camp in Seattle over the summer to vie for a spot on the Junior World team. Kelly will be heading back to high school and a single in the fall.
"We raced like we were in last place of the A final the entire time," says Katy Newmarker of Long Beach Rowing Club after winning that same final with double partner Reilly Hayes (note: they weren't last). The duo had won the Southwest Regionals five weeks prior, and spent the interim training in the double (a new boat class for the girls who won in the 4+ sweep boat at regionals as well) and a quad for Alfredo Montenegro at LBRC.
"We had similar erg times," said Reilly Hayes. Montenegro said that because of the size of the club, there are times when he just looks at erg times, put girls with similar times together, and watches the crews' chemistry on the water. This particular configuration was a winner (more on the quad later).
The girls were herded away to prepare for rowing the quad after their double victory, but as they drank water to chill the humid Tennessee morning, they explained a little about their race plan. "We have really been working on being efficient on the water, through the body of the race," says Reilly. They were second in this event last year, but have not been practicing the double too often for this year. The goal, they shared, was to power out the start and not let up. They won by 5 seconds over some of the best sculling programs in the country, (Saugatuck, Stanford, Narragansett) so they met their goal.
"I love to row with my sister," says Georgia Ratcliffe of her younger sister Carolina, also her teammate at James Madison High School. It may be because "I can be honest with her," she shares, and, as an aside, it was more that they can have a good shouting match at each other then get out of the boat and it is ‘no hard feelings' on the dock.
The younger Ratcliffe said that in the heats, where they first raced together in a pair, she was struggling with her finish. "I had to work on matching up with her," she shares. The work in progress had fantastic results. The pair beat the field, led by an Orlando, FL OARS crew, by more than seven seconds.
Carolina explained the fast-forward process of making their boat fast from heats-to semis and finals, especially in the pair, where these details are so important. "I had to work on getting my blade out, Georgia pulls in so hard and fast to the finish and we had to get the boat off of her side," she shares. "But it worked out in that race; going from the eight to the pair, we really had to communicate and work on the finesse," says Ratcliffe.
The girls went on to row in three and four seat of the James Madison Eight later in the day. James Madison is coached by Paul Allbright, who has been making the women's program (eights in particular) fast for six years.
Georgia will be rowing at University of Virginia this fall, but heads out in the summer to take a couple classes and train in Virginia before the head race season and college life begins for her.
Let the doubling continue! Harrison Shure and Kieran O'Sullivan from Seattle Rowing Center had won the Open pair by 2 seconds, and then dashed off to prepare for the Lightweight Four.
Their coach Conal Groom said "They don't row each season until they set goals;" this year, the young men surprised Groom by asserting they wanted to win single, pair and four in Nationals. Tall order, he felt, but these guys committed to their goal. "They are full-time rowers, but they also do running, weight-lifting and cycling to keep in shape," says Groom. Note that two of those goal categories were open weight, and they are all lightweights.
"We practice small boats with high skills," says Groom, "and these guys are highly motivated," he affirms.
More on Seattle Rowing Center in the lightweight four entry.
With the winning double back on board, Long Beach Junior Crew won the Quad event this Sunday at Nationals as well.
Alfredo Montenegro said "we row 50/50 sculling and sweep at Long Beach Junior Rowing," and mixing it up has worked for the women of the club. The four who won the 4x at Youth Nationals Sunday, also won in the coxed four at Southwest Regionals five weeks ago. They were undefeated this season in regattas in the double, four, and quad (when they rowed it.)
"These girls have great ergo times," he says.
And of the close time interval between the two races for the UCLA and Stanford-bound athletes Newmarker and Hayes?
"They ice, get some liquids, relax," say Montenegro – well, for about 30 minutes.
Narragansett had a good start as racing commenced Sunday for the finals, with Burkholtz winning the single. He and Eric Espisito (LW going to Yale), Isaac Mocarski (going to Quad camp in Seattle) and junior Jonathan Daw had already won every regatta this season in the Quad, including the Northeast Regional qualifying regatta. At the 2013 Youth Nationals, they continued the pattern.
"I left them alone," says Narragansett Coach Peter Wilhelm of his coaching technique with the squad. "They put in a lot of effort; I give them the opportunity to get on the water and I do my coaching…but they do extra workouts on their own," says Wilhelm.
"There are times when I would have them out on the water and I would hear it wasn't the first time they were out on that day," he smiles. "We do a lot of steady state and lactate testing," Wilhelm says.
"I just told them to sit up and make it feel good in the boat," and that…it seems, was enough. "After the regional regatta they started to really practice the quad and it just came together." Understatement, that. They won over New Canaan by 4 seconds.
Women's LW 8+
Oakland Strokes crew had two girls sitting in plastic tubs full of ice water after their winning race in the lightweight eight - Marie Johnson, 7-seat of the LW 8+, and Elizabeth Pate, 6-seat were up to their rib cage in ice water for 10 minutes to facilitate recovery. Why? They also sat in the same seats in the Open 8+ about an hour later. Alia Shafe, stroke of both boats was beside them, legs elevated on a tree.
When asked how the crew does so well, the stern three that double up instantly give credit elsewhere: "An extremely exceptional bow five!" Pate had stroked the Light Eight to gold in 2012, Shafe stroked the Open Eight.
A lot of the girls did extra workouts says Coach Derek Byrnes.
When asked how they do so much, Elizabeth said from her ice bath, "a lot of GU!" This was a crew who loves hyperbole, and was giving each other credit with enthusiasm—and for good reason. The Oakland Strokes women's boats have been a finals crew at Nationals for years.
"We did what Oakland does best, stayed relaxed and powerful," says bow seat Grace Benson regarding their race.
"We know Mercer (third) has a great start," said Alanah Anderson, "and we felt we had to stay ahead," says the 5-seat. Wayland Weston was five seconds back, Mercer six. On to the ice baths!
Men's LW 4+
Seattle Rowing Center was already primed with the recipients of silver in the Men's single and gold in the Men's Pair residing in a boat with junior Spencer Schultz.
They also had a weight-carrying secret weapon in 12-year old Elsa Andrews coxing (who had a high, well-executed cox toss after their victory).
This 3-year old program with a high concentration of quality athletes took this race to meet goals set with Coach Groom months earlier.
The team had been battling it out with Bainbridge Island Rowing Center, a Northwest Region neighbor, all season. Looks like the continuous challenge made them stronger, as they won by 2 seconds over the crew as they had in regionals.
As the coaches passed at the recovery area, the Bainbridge Island Coach said to Seattle Coach Groom, "We could have settled this at home and saved a lot of money!" Touché!
Women's LW 4+
Before showing up at Melton Hill Lake in Tennessee, the girls of the Lightweight Women's four at Manhasset High School had built a winning resume. They had won at NY States to qualify here, as well as Stotesbury Cup (Manhasset is a public high school) and Scholastic Nationals – and they added to that trifecta with a decisive win over Capital Cities by three seconds here at Youth Nationals. Credit goes also to Capital Cities, as they came closer than any boat this season this swift four.
"It is the commitment and time they put into the season," says Hugo Guardado, coach at Manhasset. "We started early, went to Florida in December and California in February," he said. Cox Hannah Press, Sarah Henry, Maddie Duskin, Keagan Hanley and Clare McIntee (the only senior) have retained their seats all season, as Guardado says "the chemistry is perfect," and it is worth noting that Manhasset is a small team, to find this concentration of athletes was unlikely.
Stroke McIntee said that "there are not many seniors, with me being in the boat with 3 juniors and a sophomore…I felt a lot of pressure coming into the season to repeat last season" (they had undefeated season last year in same category). They had not raced Capital Cites in heats or semis during the regatta; they had only seen their times. The unknown had McIntee a little concerned.
For the first time this year, they were down to a crew (Capital Cities) about half way during the race. "Our race plan was to stay composed…we have the technique and we have the power," McIntee. "We did a focus 10 and a middle 20," she says of their cox calls, "and that really helped us." Another win for Manhasset light 4+.
Now let's hear from the Midwest! The St. Louis Rowing Club, coached by Andrew Black for the past four years, built a four in the fall of 2012 that has been undefeated all 2013 spring season.
Inspired in part by a Princeton-bound senior stroke BJ Francis, the crew from the local high school LaDue, with one from the Whitfield School, Black "worked around their strengths to get the best result," he says. The guys were all novices together a couple years back.
"We are a technically focused crew," says Black, "and they row really well together." He admits that the crew does not have gasp-worthy erg scores, but that they simply row very well. "Our plan was to get ahead just from base pace, around a 34, to get open water," he explains. They had open water for most of the race.
"We do a lot of low-rate technical work at practice," adds Black. That low-rate training translated to a six-second win in a very competitive final over Pacific and Marin.
LW Men's 8+
Evan Bainbridge, Coach of Los Gatos Crew said that the team's focus has always been a win at Youth Nationals. Practicing in the Southwest, with a five-week period from Regionals to Nationals, there was a lot of time for progress. They had lost to Marin by 1.8 seconds at Regionals, leaving the men in the LW 8 plenty of time to think about how to make that up.
"With the five-week break it is too long to train at the high level (preparation for racing) so we did go back to some base building after regionals," says Bainbridge.
"They work very, very hard; this may be one of the smallest lightweight crews I have coached, but they just work very hard," he explains. Bainbridge coached at Newport Aquatic center a few years ago to a LW win at Nationals.
Bow seat Charlie Webb says, "Since novice year we have been battling Marin." Last year they did not even make the finals. Racing Sunday, "we were watching Marin, and if they made a move, we wanted to counter it right away," says Webb. "We were trying to be a responsive crew. They came out very fast, and we were dead even for most of the race, maybe a seat ahead, but we made a move at about 500 and they didn't seem to have enough left in the tank."
"We graduated a lot of rowers from the silver-medal crew last year," says Sandy Armstrong, coach of Marin Rowing's junior women's program. "We started this year as a reconstruction. We had novices that had to get used to the mental and physical preparation for racing. We started to come together early in the spring, and when we raced our fastest competition (Oakland Strokes) in the first race, we won." It was a surprise and a confidence booster for the young crew with only 2 seniors in the boat.
"The competition is getting so fast and there is really no margin of error," she explains.
After winning three races early in the spring, the Marin Open 8+ lost to Oakland in the Regional Qualifiers. "They (Marin) had spent their season undefeated, then they lost in the regional championships…that is really where they learned their lesson…we got beat…it was probably a good thing," she says.
"We had five weeks to get the wheels tightened back up."
On Sunday finals at US Rowing Youth Nationals, they spent heats and semis practicing different parts of the race. They practiced how to make a move from base pace, and how to start fast, "the final was a great opportunity to take what we learned and utilize it."
"This final I let them loose, we hadn't raced everyone in the final, but I just let them do their thing."
At the finish, Sandy Armstrong said their thrilled response to the victory by 5 seconds not only over Oakland Strokes (third) but Cincinnati Juniors, was "the ultimate acknowledgement that they made it."
"This year it turned out that the top-8 single scullers were in the Varsity 8," says Casey Galvanek of Sarasota Crew. In the fall, the team heads out in singles and pairs. "It was great to see the process (of rowing singles) come together," says Galvanek.
Coming into Nationals, Sarasota has been establishing themselves as Florida powerhouse. In the State regatta, says Galvanek, Winter Park had held the top spot on the podium for decades. In recent years, Sarasota has taken over as local dynasty.
"It has been nice representing the Southeast region, especially when people come up to us and tell us they are cheering for us to win," he says.
On Sunday, Sarasota was in lane three facing established California programs Marin and Oakland Strokes. They were a smaller-statured boat, but one that has been together since they were in eighth grade. "6 of the 8 were in a middle school program that rowed up as freshman in the State champs," he says. They didn't win, but came back the next year as a true freshman boat and won the state. Since then, that crew (with slight variations) has been rowing together.
Despite all this, Galvanek says that their five years of rowing together, rowing in singles, and working really hard may not be there "secret weapon." He says that is probably their sense of humor. "This is absolutely the wittiest crew I have ever coached."
"They are so quick-witted…I really have to be careful, they are funny and smart," he suggests that any comment he makes can instantly become a team joke.
On Sunday, "the crew was about a boat length up at the 1100," Galvanek explained. "They sat there for a while, and Oakland made a move at about 1300—Sarasota responded with a powerful, hard 5 strokes that really shut that move down." From there they really rowed their base rate through the finish, not wanting to make a mistake with the lead that held onto. As racing closed swiftly (crews were yanked off the water as lightning approached), Sarasota won by 2.5 seconds, then Oakland and Marin. Cheers for the Southeast Region, who also hosted the regatta.
There were a couple boats row2k missed speaking to on the docks. Your reporter is trying to track down those athletes and coaches, stay tuned!