by Tom Utescher

PHOTO CAPTION - Launching the new season, Mount St. Joe’s lightweight eight heads upstream to start its first race of the spring. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Last Sunday, Mount St. Joseph Academy kicked off what looks to be yet another successful crew season, winning the varsity eight, lightweight eight, and JV eight events and coming in second in three other races in the first installment of the annual Manny Flick series on the Schuylkill.

First up for the Magic last Sunday were a JV Four “A” boat containing coxswain Alyssa Pagliaro and rowers (stroke to bow) Gwynedd Kieffer, Kate Jones, Jill Kindelan, and Kelly Gregor, and a “B” craft coxed by Lauren Woodrow and powered by Hannah Keller, Jacqueline James, Michelle Walter, and Paige Funchion.

The “B” boat finished second in five minutes, 52.31 seconds behind victorious Agnes Irwin (5:48.65), while Mount “A” (5:56.36) was third, some 26 seconds ahead of Merion Mercy.

The Mount’s first victory came in the JV eight, where coxswain Alex Kist kept up the beat for Rebecca McCool, Maureen Flynn, Meghan O’Brien, Emma Thompson, Briana Sylvester, Fiona Kelly, Emily Ruddy, and Kaitlin Kiernan. They covered the course in 5:16.75, seven seconds faster than runner-up Episcopal Academy, which edged out number three Absegami by just under two seconds.

The third “four” entered by the Mount last Sunday was a lightweight boat, in which Geneva Russell, Carly Scullin, Maura O’Donnell, and Bobbie Sutton were supervised by coxswain Annie Tenzinger. Once again, an Agnes Irwin boat was first to the wire in this event (5:38.46), and in a widely separated field the Magic were second in 5:56.57 and Belleville (NJ) High School finished third in 6:11.01.

The Mount was also runner-up in the second eight, with Norwood Fontbonne Academy grad Rachel Heller in the stroke seat. Arranged ahead of her were Steph Henrich, Maddie Wescott, Anna DelRicci, Sarah Krmpotich, Katelyn Keane, Kiera McCloy, and Lauren Hamilton. Under the guidance of cox Mary Raggazino, the two-vee clocked in at 5:20.14 while Merion Mercy made it down first in 5:11.03. In a battle for third place between two Jersey crews, Moorestown edged Absegami by less than half-a-second.

The Mount lightweight eight was hugely successful last spring, and back to uphold a long tradition of excellence in this category were Molly Tenzinger, Kait Loftus, Paige Flynn, Leah McGlynn, Meg Bresnahan, Katie McCormick, Kate Mirabella, and Colette McNeela. In the cox compartment was Erin McElroy, who guided the Magic’s JV eight last season.

There’s always seems to be a lively esprit de corps in this boat, and the lights (a.k.a. the “Weenies”) appear to enjoy being together on and off the water. Two rowers have already been designated “Puppy” and “Foxy”, and no doubt other nicknames will soon follow.

The lights aren’t accustomed to close races early in the season, so when Bishop Eustace was still had its bowball up with the Mount’s rudder alongside Peter’s Island late in the race, the Magic bolted to open up a winning margin of five seconds, 5:10.07 to 5:15.34. Moorestown (NJ) was another 11 seconds back in third place.

“They were a little distracted by the competition, it seems to me,” said MSJ varsity coach Mike McKenna, who wanted his charges to concentrate chiefly on what was happening within their boat, not alongside them. “They took a big lead to start with, and then later they got a little wrapped up in beating the other crew rather than rowing their best race.”

In the varsity eight race, the Mount received a more serious challenge from Radnor High School, fighting off a vigorous sprint by the Red Raiders to win by about one-and-a-half seconds. With the river flowing swiftly, the Magic’s time in their 2011 debut, 4:57.10, matched their winning time in last year’s Stotesbury Cup Regatta near the end of the season.

“We’ve actually held back quite a bit with any kind of speed work,” McKenna revealed. “The focus for today’s race was for them to have a consistent pace down the course and mentally stay within the boat, and they did that well.”

Radnor, housed just down the street from the Mount’s Conshohocken boathouse, finished second to the Magic at the scholastic national championships last spring. This year, the Raiders and many other opponents will have a size advantage over the Mounties in the open-weight varsity class.

Mount St. Joe graduated a number of physically powerful rowers out of last year’s varsity eight, and some of their replacements this season were previously in the lightweight category. Like a light heavyweight competing in the heavyweight boxing division, the Mounties must stay disciplined and technically sound; if they get too amped up and try to overpower their rivals, more muscular opponents will make them pay.

“The idea is to be a little more consistent throughout a race than we were last year,” McKenna said. “Today they were pressured all the way down the course and they kept their composure, which I was pleased to see.”

Two seniors in the boat are Norwood Fontbonne grads, seven-seat Meredith Bracken and Maggie Rush, the cox from last year’s superb lightweight eight. Occupying the two seat is the only other 12th-grader, Hill resident Katie Casebeer. A strong contingent of juniors fill the rest of the vessel; Darian DiCianno (five), Rose Ehrlich (six), Dana Lerro (stroke), Julie McGlynn (bow), Katie O’Connell (four) and the newest arrival, Emily Carbone (three).

Due to the harsh weather this winter, the Magic have not held as many seat-racing challenges as they normally have at this stage, and McKenna indicated that the varsity line-up could still be in flux for a few more weeks.