Part 1 of our 2 part look at the 4 days and 778 crews worth of racing that was USRowing's massive 2022 Youth National Championship.
Small Boats: Women's 1x, Doubles and Pairs
In the small boats, the victors got ahead early and stayed there in every event save the Youth Men's Single, which we will get into below.
Across the rest, open water wins became the theme of the morning, which was not entirely surprising given the high-stakes "time trial to Top 12 semis" format that rewarded pure speed and quickly sorted who the favorites might be. In all, four of the six small boat time trial winners from Thursday came up golden today, and the fifth--Triangle Rowing's Men's Pair of Cole Nordby and Aidan Humbert--was 2nd by just .2 seconds against Thursday's clock before winning their semi and then the gold today.
That those four double winners--Los Gatos' Meena Baher (W1x), Capital Rowing's Elsa Hartman and Lily Crook (W2-), Miami Beach's Grace Matos and Charlotte Paley (W2x) and South Eugene's Timmy Parsons and Elliott Swinney--made good on the speed they showed Thursday is in itself a testament to the caliber of these champions: each crew able to hit on all cylinders again on Finals Day and get away from fiercely competitive packs in the early going when, of course, all the bows started level.
South Eugene Head Coach Jamie Phelps noted that her double was on a mission to move to the front of that event all year:
South Eugene YM2x
"After getting bronze in the men's 2x last year, we dedicated our 2021/2022 season to working as hard as we could to bring home the gold this year. Timmy and Eliott have worked extremely hard this past year and the boys are two of the hardest workers I have ever met. It's been a fun, competitive season with lots of strong competition. The boys followed their race plan and we're thrilled to take home the gold. Congratulations to all crews!"
Sarah Puddicombe, coach of the Capital pair which won both semis and final by 8 seconds or better, was quick to credit how her athletes had emerged from the pandemic going fast:
"After not being allowed to race for two springs because of the pandemic it was truly special what these two athletes did. Elsa Hartman is one to watch for sure, as she will be going to Selection camp again to try and earn a seat again in a Junior Worlds boat and Lily Crook has been a keystone piece for our team."
Hartman, who stroked the crew here, was also the bow seat of last year's U19 World Champion crew for the US.
Coach Puddicombe and the Capital YW2-: Lily Crook & Elsa Hartman
The Youth W1x Champion, Meena Baher, paired her win in the single with a tricky bit of doubling: she also stroked the Los Gatos quad which also made the A Final, a race that started just 56 minutes after the 1x Final.
The single was Baher's primary focus, though: after taking 5th last year, she set as her goal, according to Los Gatos Head Coach Jaime Velez: "She said I want to come back, I want to win this event next year and we have been working towards that all year."
Winning the YW1x
"She's an exceptional athlete," added Velez. "This is only her second year of rowing, and last year she made the final. This year, it's been working towards this goal of trying to win the national champion the single. She had done the work, she had the fitness, and was ready to go, but she was also spending time with the quad and then she's also preparing for Under 23 Trials [this week]."
Baher, who is headed to Harvard in the fall, credited her execution when reflecting on her win:
"In today's grand final, my race pretty much went exactly according to plan. I knew that I wanted to assert a lead within the first 500 meters and defend the field. Thankfully, I was able to get off the line clean and strong, which set me up to have a great piece. In terms of the other two 1x races, I knew I wanted to make a statement in the time trial, and then do what was necessary to win the semi-final."
"I think what made my Youth Nats experience so unique was that I raced in two grand finals (1x and 4x). Double-racing was definitely a decision that required a lot of trust in my ability and trust in my coaches' belief in me, because it sounded (and was) very exhausting to row six 2ks at a very high level in the span of four days. I'm so lucky to have an amazing support system at LGRC, as they provided me with all the tools for my recovery in between races. Overall, it was an excellent weekend of racing for my two boats and our whole club!"
Los Gatos as a club has a long history of racing youth eights, but Velez noted that COVID protocols, and the fact that they had to row singles, has shifted the focus of their 120 athletes towards sculling.
"We traditionally were an eights program, but because of COVID we spent an entire year in singles and our county was pretty restrictive," said Velez. "We went from singles to doubles to quads and fours. And that really started the process: We transitioned from being so eights-focused to being small boat focused, because we had to be."
"We brought 15 entries, sweep and scull. It was exciting to bring athletes in both sweep and sculling events--singles, doubles, quads, straight fours, pairs--and we made nine finals. We were shocked, well not shocked, because we knew we had the speed, but we just didn't know where it all would go."
"It's all due to the amazing staff, and then amazing athletes. We all work really hard and we all try to figure out ways to keep on improving and we get along really well together. It's been amazing for these athletes that are here and then the ones that are at home that supported them and helped us as a program."
Youth Men's Single
Devan Godfrey, celebrating YM1x Gold
The exception to the open water winning in the first six races came in the very first fixture, as the Men's Single featured a three if not four way tussle for the gold.
The tight field had already produced three different time trial and semi winners, but and the A Final was very nearly anyone's race: winner Devan Godfrey moved through from 5th place in the early going, where the eventual sixth place sculler, Long Island's Nicholas Gilligan still had contact with him. Godfrey rowed himself up to the early leaders--Charlotte Youth Rowing's Henry LePage, South Orlando Rowing's Cooper Hagen, and the Time Trial winner from Gainesville Area Rowing, Andrew Furlow--and then got into a three boat race with LePage and Furlow that lasted the better part of the second half of the race to decide the medals.
LePage, who was winning himself the first-ever medal for the Charlotte Youth program, led the race until deep in the third 500, and less than a second separated the three into the final stanza of the action.
Godfrey emerged in just the last 250 as the clear leader, taking the title. LePage held on to silver and Furlow won the bronze.
Godfrey taking gold, LePage (near) winning silver
"Winning the national championship was a more surreal experience than I ever could have imagined," said Godfrey. "I am so grateful for the support I've received from my family and my team at Rowing Club of The Woodlands."
"Coming in fourth place in the B Final in 2021 motivated me to work diligently both in and out of practice throughout the past year. In the weeks leading up to nationals, I lined up with the larger team boats instead of the other singles to push my limits. The intense competition from the other five athletes in the A Final made for an extremely exciting, yet challenging race to end the season."
The strength of the field impressed Godfrey's coach, Davis Colwell, as well:
"We are thrilled for Devan, considering how strong this year's field is. There is so much talent and it could have been any one of these young men at the finish line. We have so much respect for all of the racers. They are tremendous competitors."
"I was the slowest off the start," said Godfrey afterwards, "but crept my way into the lead throughout the row. 500 meters in, I was in fourth place. My personal sweet spot is the last 1k of a race; consistently increasing my speed in the second half of the race allowed me to catch up to Henry LePage and eventually overtake him in the final 250 meters. The last 250 meters of the race was both the most pain I've ever felt and the most rewarding piece I've ever rowed."
"I'm truly thrilled to be in this position and determined to defend the title of national champion in the men's U19 1x next year"
Notable throughout the weekend amongst the youth competitors was a high degree of respect for each other and what each athlete was achieving at every placing down the lists. That sportsmanship was particularly noticeable amongst these finalists in the Youth Men's Single at the awards ceremony, and on social media, with the medalists congratulating each other and posing for photos with their fellow scullers.
Top 5 Youth Men's Scullers: Charles Boldt, Andrew Furlow, Devan Godfrey, Henry LePage, and Cooper Hagan. Photo by Mark LePage.
Quad Titles Go West, and South
In the Quads, Redwood Scullers won the Youth Women's Quad, taking the title so firmly held by Y-Quad Cities since 2014, all the way to the West Coast, while Newport Seabase gave the Youth Men's Quad title a Southern California flavor after Marin had won the race last year.
Seeing a quad other than Y Quad Cities break away to win the Youth Women's race was surprising, but even Redwood's win was, according to Redwood Head Coach Monica Hilcu, thanks in part to the standard they had set:
"The girls in that Y Quad boat and that program have elevated women's sculling for years. Dr Peter Sharis, Jamie Whalen and the entire staff set a high bar."
The YW4x finish: right to left, Redwood Scullers, Niskayuna, CRI, Y Quad Cities.
"After semis," Hilcu mentioned, "I was talking to Jamie Whalen of Y-Quad and I asked him if he ever remembered so many women's quads under 7:00 and he responded. 'No and it's fantastic.'"
For the record, all 6 finalists were under 6:57 and, while there was a tailwind and a fast track on the day, it still took a 6:47 from Redwood Scullers to win it, and it was a silver in 2019, to Y Quad Cities of course, which inspired their efforts, said Hilcu.
"The Redwood girls in this Nationals winning boat set this goal back in August of 2021. They rowed singles and doubles twice a week, and the quad a few times a week throughout the year to be ready for this Championship weekend. We traveled up and down the west coast, to Canada, anywhere we could find competition to be ready for YNC 2022. Our M2x came out twice a week to race these girls just to give them someone to hunt down and push them. Our coaching staff all worked with this boat to get them ready. A big thank you to all our alumni for paving the way and to our families for their endless support."
Silver and bronze went to Niskayuna and Community Rowing, both new finalists this year, while Y Quad Cities took fourth. Cambridge Boat Club was 5th and Meena Baher and her Los Gatos quad-mates took sixth.
New Looks for Youths
2022 introduced both Para events and age-category racing to the Youth Nationals format.
Two Para events were offered, a PR1/PR2 Youth Single and a Mixed Youth Inclusive Double, and it was the doubles race that attracted interest in this first year. Three crews entered, 2 all-boy lineups and one all-girls line up from Texas Rowing Center. The stroke of the Texas crew, Sarah Menafee, was featured in this video from USRowing, and she finished second in the race with partner Stella Howard. Atlanta Junior Rowing's Max Allemeier and Aidan Cavanaugh won the final, and Conestoga's Sam Wang and Ethan Yan took third.
The age category racing offered events--and Youth Nationals titles-- for U15, U16, U17 athletes. The youngest athletes, the under 15s, competed in in coxed quads--and they raced their final right behind the Youth Eights, at the height of crowds along the shore line on Sunday morning. Norcal won the Men's U15 gold, and Maritime the Women's.
U16 events added an eights option; and then the U17 events expanded to include the 1x, 2x, 4+ and the 4x (without coxswain!) in addition to 8s.
Notes from the Course
- Local color: fields tight enough to "throw a blanket over"? Not in Southwest Florida. Down here, announcer David Wyant prefers to "throw a beach towel" over races too close to call, so there you go.
- A Marathon of Medalists: with 33 events and 99 sets of medals, the awards ceremony went on, and on: starting mid morning and lasting almost until the end of the B Final racing that closed the regatta. How long? Well, it started at 9:30 and time stamp on our last medals photo was 1:01 pm--that's a heaping helping of prize-giving (and to be honest too much dead air by almost as much, which had parents fretting over either missing photos or missing flights) to be sure.