Part 2 of our look at the 4 days and 210 teams worth of racing that was USRowing's massive 2022 Youth National Championship.
Rumbling in the Youth Eights
When the time came for the eights to thunder down the course, both races opened with a go-for-broke, "row it like you stole it" gamble by one crew, certainly a sound enough strategy given the fast, tailwind conditions. In both races though, nearly the whole field would rise to the challenge that the Marin Youth Women and the St. Joe's Prep Youth Men threw down with their blazing starts. The crews with the ultimate extra gear to get the gold both turned out to be first-time winners: Chicago's Youth Women and the Greenwich Youth Men.
For the Youth Women, Marin was the one to set a blistering pace right from the beep, but Chicago's patient base and lower-rating rhythm kept them in contact and started winning them seats in the 3rd 500. They went ahead for good, if not by much, with 600 meters or so to go. Greenwich and RowAmerica Rye, in hot pursuit, would win the silver and bronze. Margins amongst the medalists? Just a shade over 2 seconds.
The Youth Men had come down the track first, in an even tighter pack: St. Joe's Prep, no doubt with both memories of their program's big win here in 2021 and a determination to represent as the sole scholastic program to make an Eights A Final, went out hard, grabbing as much a a length on the field, but the bar Prep set was just in reach for Greenwich, Newport and Sarasota, who medaled in that order. The Prep crew, though fourth in the end, was reportedly largely underclassmen, and so they will figure to be back in the hunt in years to come. Margins amongst the medalists? Again, just a shade over 2 seconds, with Prep less than a second from the podium and both Marin and Saugatuck still in contact, in what one just might call a beach towel finish.
Chicago Rowing Foundation - YW8+ Champs
"Today was a huge day," said Chicago Head Coach Mike Wallin. "We've been in the grand final every year since starting in 2015, and we've come up short. we've podiumed a couple of times, but we've just been really knocking on the door for a long time. So it's a good feeling to finally break through, to get through the struggles of getting there and just keep coming back and never say die, never slow down."
"The cycle of kids that came in and out over those years had a lot to do with the win today, too. I feel like when you are there that consistently, then we were probably the least nervous or the crew least unfamiliar with the intensity of sitting on that line. I think that helped us really stay composed."
In addition to that cycle of athletes overtime, Wallin's crew came to the line with some savvy racers.
"Nora Goodwillie is our stroke, and she was the stroke of the US Junior Eight that won the World Championship last summer by open water at U19 Worlds. Maeve Heneghan and Lily Pember were also on the U19 national team. Maeve finished less than a second and a half out of winning, in the straight four, and Lily was our spare over there. Then we have another girl named Regan Mary Cronin, who just started rowing in September. She was a pure novice. Just really good athlete and ended up being in our five seat."
"We had a plan. We knew that it was unlikely that we were going to be ahead in the first 500 to 1000 meters. But we also felt confident that our whole body of work over 2k was going to be a really hard product to beat. So, we wanted to kind of come off of the high strokes and the settle strokes just feeling like we're starting to move back or hold them because we knew that Marin and Rye would be really much higher ratings. If you're able to hold or slightly move at a lower rating, even if you're behind, you're in a very good position. That's just something we wanted to make clear in everyone's mind, going into the race. 'Hey, this this isn't going to be over in 500 meters: you're going to have to row your piece, stay poised and composed, and trust the work that we've done all year--which is, win races are 35 strokes per minute.'"
"They did an amazing job," Wallin added. "I mean, you can know the plan and you can know what can work, but to say that to a group of 16 to 18 year olds, and have the group collectively believe it and go out and execute it, isn't always as easy as it sounds. In fact, it's not easy at all."
"It was really just athletic poise from them and confidence. Once we once we had closed the gap from 500 to 1000 and basically halved the margin we were down on Marin, I felt really good at that point. Then we had taken the lead and were continuing to move and while it's certainly unfortunate what happened to Marin, because it would have been an amazing finish with Greenwich and Rye and them, but I told the crew, 'If you do get ahead, you're not going to lose. You just have to make sure you don't try to go get it by rowing high, you have to row your piece."
Chicago, as a program, has dealt with some real tragedies over the years, including the deaths of three athletes during a three week stretch in August of 2019, as covered by row2k at the time, and even today, the name on the bow of the winning eight--Truls Henricksen--held special meaning for the crew and the whole team.
Chicago, going to the front in the "Truls Henricksen"
Henricksen, who passed away earlier this year, was a long-time supporter for Wallin's program and a former team parent: his daughter Sammie, now a captain at Cal, just raced here in Sarasota a few weeks ago at NCAAs.
"Our treasurer Truls Henricksen passed away this February, very suddenly. He was paramount in keeping our team financially secure and organized during COVID. He really made it so that we felt comfortable making decisions through that whole time. And if we hadn't been stable, and if we hadn't been prepared, both our men's and women's side would have been severely limited. He was just the biggest supporter of the team that I can think of. He would have been beaming, seeing us win, and having his name on the boat meant a lot to all of us."
Greenwich Crew - YM8+ Champs
Greenwich Head Coach Cary Wasserman, who guided his guys to both the Head of the Charles title last fall--a sweep of the Youth 8 titles along with the Greenwich women--and today's victory, was as impressed by the field as by his crew's performance:
"Hats off to the five other boats in that race," he said afterwards. "They are all incredible competitors. I think it's, to my recollection, probably one of the fastest fields ever in the history of the Nationals. Everybody was looking for the gold and went out and tried to do the things that they're all very good at. So, we focused on the pieces of our race that we were very good at and the guys just executed it perfectly."
"We knew that St. Joe's was going to be incredibly fast off the start. We've raced those guys throughout the season, four, maybe five times. We knew they had an insane first 1000 and that we had a very, very strong second 1000. We also knew that Saugatuck was also going to have insane closing speed, so we were we were concerned about that, and we also knew that Newport was just a very complete crew and that Sarasota was incredibly dangerous, and Marin, too."
"The guys and I just really focused on the things that we did really well: to be relaxed, to let the race come to us, to let it play out, and just do the things that we were really good at and had practiced all year. They were so comfortable and confident and ready to go into it, just peaking at the right time. This is certainly one of the fastest high school crews I've ever laid eyes on, and it's certainly the fastest high school group I've ever coached. And they just did everything that we practiced perfectly."
"We were lucky to be there and lucky to have everything coming together at the right time for us. In that boat, I have four insanely close-knit seniors, and then four juniors including our varsity coxswain, who I think is the best in the country. Certainly one of the best I've ever seen in my career. And an amazing sophomore who is is super, super talented. Those guys, they knew that they wanted to do that they set that call as soon as those guys all gotten in that lineup early in the season, that they never looked back. They never they never lost the race. They went undefeated in those seats, all year."
Wasserman's coxswain, Elenna Seguin, told row2k that the race was blur:
"It definitely went by fast. I remember looking to my left and right and there were a lot of crews next to us for a majority of the race until around the last 500 meters, when we broke free. So it was a little bit stressful, a little bit long--the process of getting ahead--but overall, it was really fun and a really good piece."
Sequin said that the key moment in the race came with 500 to go, at which point fully four crews were still in her peripheral vision (video here):
"Passing through the third 500, especially at the 1500 meter mark, we took our big move because we knew that we had a shot at doing it. They took a big push and we put everything out on the table, and it definitely worked. That's where we had the momentum in our favor, and then from there, we tried to keep it and we worked with that momentum through the sprint."
"It wasn't until the last 500 meters that I was like, 'Oh, like we definitely have this.' I was confident in the crew throughout the whole race, but it wasn't until the last 500 that something shifted and I knew, 'Ok, we're going.'"
"We have been undefeated all season, which I'm very proud to say, but I think the crew that we have right now is definitely eight of the hardest working boys that I've ever met in my life. So I definitely know that they were doing their best and I think they were a little bit nervous going into the race, and anxious. But overall, we have a lot of trust in each other and we were all very confident that we would put down our best piece no matter what. So we just kind of took that stroke by stroke and saw how fast we could get down and tried the focus with ourselves. Keep it internal."
"It was just great to get out there and see the competition, because those were incredibly strong crews that we were going against and just to see what would happen, and I think it worked out really well in the end."
Race of the Regatta: 2 Boat Edition - YM4+
The epic two boat dual in the final of the Youth Men's Coxed Four, wherein a patient steady drive put Greenwich ahead after a dogged pursuit of the NEIRA Champs from Deerfield, only to have Deerfield mount an incredible response to win it with a gear the unbeaten crew hadn't needed all season, was easily the race of the regatta, until roughly 7 minutes later, when the Youth Women's Coxed Four did them one boat and one photo finish better--but it can remain our choice for best 2-boat race on the day, for sure.
Deerfield YM4+, motoring
Deerfield, which had been just off the podium the last time they raced at Youth Nats in 2019, was racing in a new lineup--with bow man Casey Smith moving into the crew to replace the age ineligible postgrad who had helped the four win the NEIRA--and got out quickly, but could not shake Greenwich. Indeed, when Greenwich went ahead in the third 500 with a relentless and inexorable rhythm, it certainly seemed that the race for the gold might be over.
Deerfield, however, would not be denied, and after a few looks across by stroke John Patton, sprinted the better part of the last 400 meters to reverse Greenwich's margin and take the win (video here). PNRA-Mercer won the bronze with some late race heroics of their own, over South Jersey, but all of that was open water back from Deerfield and Greenwich.
Greenwich's Wasserman said later, "You gotta hand it to those Deerfield guys: they crushed it. We challenged them and I thought for a second that we got them and maybe broke them a little bit. But they were so determined, such a composed crew. You usually don't see that: when somebody kind of cracks a little bit, they don't always come back. They deserved that win, big time."
Of note, the Greenwich Four nearly did not qualify at all--the crew rowed their Regional with a spare out of one of their the U17 crews, an athlete who wound up racing five times over that weekend--but headed home with silver today.
Afterward, Deerfield Head Coach Spencer Washburn credited the grit of his crew and even the bit of experience they brought to bear: 2 seat George Fauver had been a freshmen in the 2019 crew that took fourth, but he went out today as a champion in his final race as a senior.
"For him to come back down and be the one kid in that boat who had had the experience was awesome," said Washburn. "He was a really just a really good leader all year and certainly these past two weeks: just really got those guys focused and he knew what was going on. I'm so pumped for him to go out with that race in particular-it was a pretty fun one."
"It's such a fun team to work with: they're good kids. They work hard. They like what they do. And that makes all the difference."
Deerfield 1st, Greenwich 2nd
"To see them have this race today was what was so fun, because we race in a really competitive league and they were fortunate to have the ability to get out all spring off the start, and have an advantage and kind of manage races from the front. Today was the first day where we knew coming in this would be a really good field. And we talked about, 'Hey, you may be down at some point. And how do we handle that?' Having not had to practice that, we talked it through, but they still had to go out and do it and so to have that composure and have that confidence in the work they've done, really came through. You can just talk about all you want, but to do it in the moment: You don't know you can do it until you do it."
"They had shown in practices that they had a gear at the back end of pieces, to be able to accelerate to the line. They hadn't really had to use it all spring, but it was in the bag and to see them pull out and use it. It was really awesome to see them collectively make that charge against a really, really good Greenwich crew that we were excited to go and race. We knew they were going to demand our best effort, so: fun, to have them pull it out and produce their best race on the last day."
"This was a crew that was excited about racing 2000 meters because they had trained really hard and there was a lot of good fitness that they had developed over the course of the winter and spring and to stretch out the race? I think they felt really good about their ability to manage 2000 meters. To see them excited about that was pretty fun and so was the opportunity, over the past few days, to see what they could do with a longer race."
Washburn noted that their fellow NEIRA crews racing here had held his crew to a high standard all year.
"We have so much respect for that Belmont Hill crew [that was in our final] and they've been the measuring stick for so long in our league. Then to have Nobles and Brooks down here was really fun and it was great to line up with them a couple of times. It really speaks to the speed of the [NEIRA] league that we get to race in all spring: every week is a challenge. It's a real test every week and it primes these guys for racing down here, to have to do what they do all spring against really good boats."
Race of the Regatta: 3 Boat Edition - YW4+
"Best Race" honors from the Deerfield-Greenwich fixture did not last long, not when the very next race--the Youth Women's Coxed Four--came down to a three boat photo finish gave a surging Winsor crew the win in what was long-time coach Lisa Stone's final race.
Winsor, which ran in a third for much of the last 1000, worked their way right into what had been a dual along the near shore between St. Andrew Rowing Club, which led nearly all the way, and Blair Academy. In a flash at the line, Winsor edged in front on practically the last stroke, even as Blair and St. Andrew swapped places: Winsor, Blair, then St. Andrew was the verdict from the camera (video here).
The Winsor crew had not won at NEIRAs--the Deerfield Women, who took 4th here, had edged them by less than a second there--but Coach Stone felt her crew had more to give:
"[After NEIRAs, we had thought] Is it worth going? How do we line up with the rest of the country? And that I thought that this crew in particular probably would be better at a 2k than a 1.5k. So, I thought it was worth making the trek down to Florida and it certainly was."
"There were a number of races where it was decided in the last 50 meters, it wasn't just our race. It's cool that things are that tight. I think it's great for the sport."
Afterward, Coach Stone offered some thoughts on her crew's race and her decision to step away and get involved in other things after more than 20 years of coaching at Winsor.
"They're a multifaceted crew. So I think the start was not good at all, but they didn't lose overlap. So, they knew they could work their way back. I think they trusted each other to be able to work through it. I don't think they knew if they had [won it] but they just kept on it. They're tenacious: they were not going to let go and, in the end, that tenacity definitely paid off. They just, were like terriers: they weren't going to let it go, and it was great."
Stone mentioned that the crew had not even realized they had won: with the 7 minute centers, the crews had been ushered off the course and back around to the docks without hearing the result of the photo finish.
"When they got into the dock, I said you won and they looked at me and they all started crying. It was really touching, all the emotions, because they're like, 'How did we do?' They knew they medaled, but they didn't know which one because it was 'beep, beep, beep.' And you don't [know] when it's that close. It was more margin than I thought, when I checked, but it seemed infinitesimal to them."
"It's just an amazing group of young women," Stone said. "They've worked really hard all year. And I think it was just a really good, good, good row."
Stone singled out her stroke, Imogen Cabot, who she called just "spectacular," and she credited the leadership provided by Cabot and two-seat Evie Wells throughout the winter for laying the foundation of Winsor's success this year.
"Cabot is definitely a standout and a really great teammate. She's just really worked hard to make sure everybody had a voice and everybody knew what the work meant. She was exemplary. Together she and Evie really did an amazing job of getting people to do winter training all winter long. It was the most consistent winter training Windsor's ever had and it paid off."
Cabot, who won the Four With at Junior Worlds last year, is headed straight back to Chula Vista for U19 Selection Camp this year and--fun fact--both she and her older sister Lettie won World Rowing Gold last year: Imogen with the US Junior squad and Lettie with GB's U23 four, using the sisters' dual citizenship during a COVID gap year that she spent rowing in the UK.
Winsor's win capped Stone's coaching career, and was a bookend gold to the two Youth titles Winsor won in 2002 and 2003, with Stone's then-future Olympian daughter, Gevvie Stone, in the crew. In all, it was a full circle moment, even it was not fully scripted to end this way.
"It's not that I expected this to happen when I made my decision to end my time coaching at Windsor. I'll probably be on the river intermittently, when there's need for part time coaches. But I just think there's so many things to do in the world. And I thought: I've done this and now especially with this sort of crescendo, like a big exclamation point, it feels like complete. I'm sad, really sad to leave Windsor: I've consistently had just great individuals to work with. I just felt like it's appropriate for me to stop now. I get very emotionally tied up with the program and sort of will be nice not to have that. I've always wanted to serve the girls in a way that was positive and added to their experience at Windsor."
"It's always been a joy and a lot of fun. It's been a great journey. I mean, I've had the joy of coaching my daughter, who I had no idea was as good as she was when she was with me at Winsor, and then this is the third time I've won the trophy: '02 and '03 with Gevvie and then 2022 with this group."
Rubbing is Racin' - 'Straight' Fours
The straight fours, as ever, served up some dramatic mayhem, to include a full-on finish line pile-up amongst the three Youth Men's Fours: Oakland Strokes, Marina Aquatic Center (MAC), and Mt Baker.
l to r: MAC bow (2nd), Mt Baker (3rd), and Oakland Strokes, winner
The MAC crew lead from the start, but Strokes and Mt Baker had been tracking them down--and the drone shots showed that the steering was playing a role nearly the whole way down the track, as the boats swerved trying to power to the front.
In the end, the crews did stay in their lanes, just, until the very last moment--even if they did make generous use of the full width of those lanes--and Strokes got their bow just in front before the crews came together, literally, to cross the line.
The Women's Y4- Final was a straighter affair all the way, and won outright by GMS, as the long-time sculling program from Connecticut made good on a switch to sweep--and on having some small boat steering skills.
The other Youth finals of the proceedings, the JV Eights, turned into a clean sweep for Marin, as the West Coasters walked away with the Youth Women's 2V and won a tight one with their Youth Boys 2V over the hometown Sarasota crew. The Greenwich Youth Women took both silver and bronze in the 2V final--add that to their silver in the 1V Eights final and the wins on the men's side, and Greenwich heads back to the Gold Coast with the biggest haul of sweep medals on the weekend.
Notes from the Course
- So? How'd We Do??: As noted by Coach Lisa Stone above, some crews in the tightest finals made it all the way back to the dock before learning that they had won--and it would seem that this is a quirk of the venue, as we heard much the same from the Wellesley coach at NCAAs. Crews on the water definitely can't hear the announcements of who finished where, nor can they see the jumbotron, and--after all--they are not being called into an awards dock. The upside: coaches getting to share the news directly with their athletes on the return float, which both coach Stone and Coach Spillane noted was a special moment.
- Practice? You Talkin' 'bout Practice? With 778 boats and just two to three launching docks made lines long for crews hoping to actually practice on the course. There is no shortage of water at Benderson, but getting out on it was tough for the racers. Some regattas with big numbers and limited space, like Canadian Henley, run a sign-up for launch spots, but there was a lot of first-come/stand-on-long-line going on here...to the point where crews were hearing on social media that they could ask staffers to jump the line if they were one of the many crews that didn't get out at all in earlier sessions.