by Tom Utescher
“Oh whisper me words in the shape of a bay; shelter my love from the wind and the waves.” – Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo
Members of area crews rowed in the rain last Friday on the first day of the Scholastic Rowing Association of America’s 2013 National Regatta, but they were more adversely affected by the weather on Saturday, when strong gusts of wind raked the course and help cause numerous mishaps and schedule changes.
Penn Charter seniors Spencer Grant, Kevin Kelly, Maria Georgiou and Heidi Zisselman won gold medals at the SRAA’s in 2012, when they were paired off in the boys’ and girls’ junior doubles events. Competing in senior doubles this season, they did not even get to race in the championship round last weekend on the Cooper River course in Camden, N.J.
After semifinal round on Saturday morning, windy conditions caused regatta officials to cancel the finals for all one-person and two-person boats, and the final rankings in these categories were based solely on the times recorded during the semifinals. Kelly and Grant still came away with the bronze medal, while Zisselman and Georgiou were placed fifth.
Meanwhile, Germantown Academy junior Kate Horvat and senior Alex Takei were very happy they’d charged away from the rest of the field in their senior double semifinal race; the effort netted them the gold medal.
Another double that was originally entered at SRAA’s, the girls’ lightweight boat from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, never got underway at the regatta. One athlete was over the 130 lb. weight limit, reflecting a major discrepancy between the school’s certified scale and the ones used at the regatta site. The best Blue Devils boys’ double fell one spot short of advancing out of the qualifying heats, but the girls in the SCH junior varsity quad made it to the finals, finishing sixth.
Mount St. Joseph Academy rowers fared well overall in Friday’s rains, then struggled on windy Saturday. A total of seven different Mounties from three different boats – the varsity eight, second eight and freshman eight – wound up in the river instead of just on top of it.
Three of the eight total entries by the Magic reached the championship round. The freshman eight and lightweight each finished fifth, while the Stotesbury Regatta champion second eight, which had two of its rowers go into the drink near the end of the final race, came in sixth. The Mount’s varsity eight made it to the petite final, which features the crews ranked 7-12 coming out of the semifinal round. Here, the Magic once again had a fifth-place finish.
In Friday’s three qualifying heats for the boys’ varsity double, the four fastest boats went on to the semifinals, and Penn Charter advanced easily, winning its heat. There were fewer entries for the girls, so the Quakers’ Georgiou and Zisselman were able to start right out in the semifinal round, and ended up racing only once the entire weekend.
Both twosomes would have altered their strategy if they had known that their final placings were going to be based solely on their semifinal times. Their main goal was to become one of the top three boats in their section, and thus advance to the championship contest.
In the boys’ second semifinal, Grant and Kelly were the runners-up behind New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep (a crew they’d beaten at Stotesbury), with times of 5:17.059 and 5:20.090. Roman Catholic was a close third at 5:21.422, but there was little danger of any of these three not earning a berth in the final, since the fourth-place boat, Virginia’s Western Albemarle High School, was far back at 5:36.234.
Bosco, Charter, and Roman wound up second, third, and fourth in the final standings, since Stotesbury champ Ridgewood (N.J.) High School won the other semifinal with a time of 5:15.141. Fifth and sixth went to Haverford School (5:26.075) and Conestoga High (5:29.130).
On this blustery afternoon, when team tents shuddered in the gusts and some came loose from their moorings entirely, weather conditions on the water changed from one race to the next.
In the girls’ senior double, GA’s Takei and Horvat ran away from everybody in the second of the two semifinals, the first and only race of the weekend for these crews. The pair of Patriots put up a time of 5:50.846, winning their own race by more than eight seconds. Their time also easily overshadowed the figure of 5:58.530 that ultimately won the silver medal for Ridgewood, the victor in the first semifinal contest.
The next two boats in the final standings came out of GA’s section, bronze medalist Conestoga (5:59.002) and Cincinnati Country Day School (5:59.895). Unaware that the final grading would be done using the semifinal results, Penn Charter cruised to second place in the other semifinal in 6:05.457, comfortably ahead of the third qualifier, Episcopal Academy (6:10.457).
As in the PC boys’ race, the fourth-place female duo was no threat to the top three in this semifinal group; Egg Harbor arrived at the finish line in 6:21.390. In the end, PC and Episcopal were positioned fifth and sixth, respectively.
First thing Friday morning, SCH lightweight double rowers Maddy Canning and Alana Noble thought they were good to go. A couple days before the race, they’d each weighed in well below the limit for lights on the scales at their school, which are certified by the Department of Weights and Measures not only for rowers, but also for the boys on the wrestling team. The lithe ladies knew they would be weighed again over in Camden, so in the interim they obviously weren’t over at Bruno’s Restaurant stuffing down hoagies and cheese fries.
Lo and behold, when the Blue Devils stepped on the scales at the SRAA’s, one of them (we’re not telling) went from four pounds under the mark to four pounds over. Obviously, the on-site measurements had to be given priority, and it was “regatta over” for these two. They could finally chow down, but not for too long, since they’ve qualified to race at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships next month.
There was also some disappointment for Springside Chestnut Hill’s most successful boys’ double, the JV boat staffed by James Meadows and Matt Miller. In their sparsely-populated category, a finish in third place or higher early on Friday morning would’ve have taken them straight into the finals. They came in fourth in one of the two first-round races, just half-a-second behind the last qualifier, Fox Chapel, from Pittsburgh.
There was a similar format in the girls’ JV quad, and here the Blue Devil quartet (Henney Hambrose, Comora Love-Mitchell, Emily Zuckerman, Courtney McElwee) made the cut, coming in third in their initial outing. The field was spread out in the championship race on Saturday, with Conestoga clinching the gold medal in 5:31.681, while SCH was sixth in 6:19.126.
First-year SCH coach Julia Rorer was pleased with their effort.
“They’re all sophomores, so they were probably the youngest boat out there,” she pointed out. “They all have another year together just in the junior quad.”
She said that the four tenth-graders are dedicated to honing their skills in practice and racing beyond just the three-month spring season.
In the first-round SRAA racing on Friday, three Mount St. Joseph fours missed the qualifying cut. The JV eight [Megan Mirabella (cox), Caroline Carbone (stroke), Quinn Devore, Jocelyn Ziemniak, Jenny DiPietro, Christina Vosbikian, Alaina Hunt, Brynn McGillin, Ariene Merkle] made it past this stage, coming in second in the last of four opening heats to reach one of two semifinals. Another finish of third place or higher would be required for a spot in the finals, but the Magic were fifth this time around.
The MSJ freshman eight [Lindsey Maiale (cox), Demi Simms (stroke), Christina Knox, Olivia Tice-Carroll, Maddie Lauinger, Julianna Hunt, Maddie Carlton, Katelin Cordero, Zoe Ramos], the silver medalist at Stotesbury, won its SRAA debut by two seconds over Midwest power New Trier High School, from suburban Chicago.
In the semis, the young Mounties earned a spot in the finals by coming in second in their race (two-tenths of a second behind Virginia’s T.C. Williams), but just after crossing the finish line, they encountered an officials’ motor launch that had stalled and had not been cleared from the path of the competitors.
In an effort not to strike the craft with her oar, one of the Mounties got it jammed up and was flipped out of the boat. Another rower was levered up out of her seat, but managed to stay aboard. Come the final, the ninth-graders seemed a little off their game, winding up fifth ahead of the New Yorkers from Manhasset (5:25.162 to 5:31.193).
Saratoga Springs High School, the Stotesbury gold medalist, won easily over runner-up New Trier (5:03.357 to 5:12.972). Next came T.C. Williams (5:18.337), and Ohio’s Upper Arlington (5:20.525).
Mount St. Joe’s lightweight eight [Annie Tenzinger (cox), Emily McHugh, Liz McKernan, Maura O’Donnell, Bridget Fitzpatrick, Kate Mirabella, Josie Marrocco, Lexi Meister, Abby Shreero], which has had its ups and downs this season, needed to race only once to make it into the championship round last weekend.
They began well, winning the second of three semi-finals over Florida’s Plant High School by almost one-and-a-half seconds. However, the Magic had a tougher go in the finals, ending in the fifth position in 5:14.871. They were still ahead of Plant (5:18.491), but were behind two-time champ Holy Spirit (5:04.138), as well as Merion Mercy Academy (5:07.640), Florida’s Winter Park High School (5:10.710), and Montclair (5:13.305).
Coming off their Stotesbury victory, the Mount’s second eight crew [Alyssa Pagliaro (cox), Emily Ruddy (stroke), Maddie Wescott, Gwyn Kieffer, Fiona Kelly, Danielle Kosman, Jacqueline James, Marissa Mulligan, Rachel Heller] won their opening heat at SRAA’s by a little over four seconds, easily joining the other 11 semifinalists. On Saturday morning, they became the second of the three boats in their semi that earned passage to the championship race in the afternoon.
Even in the early stages of the final, things weren’t going as well as hoped for the Mount. A few hundred meters from the finish, the top medals were now out of reach, but the Magic appeared to be straining hard to achieve the best place possible. The Mounties seemed to get a little out of sync, then Heller, the bow seat rower and a Norwood Fontbonne Academy grad, caught a crab (when the oar becomes “stuck” in the water, often dislodging the rower) and was flipped out of the boat entirely. Fortunately, her head quickly popped above the water’s surface, but as onlookers glanced back at the boat itself, it was now apparent that an additional seat was empty. Heller’s senior classmate, seven-seat Maddie Wescott, had plunged into the river after her comrade.
“She’s my best friend, and instinct just sort of took over,” explained Wescott, who will continue her crew career at Lehigh University.
Heller, who’s headed for St. Joseph’s, related, “As soon as I came up, I could see Maddie standing up to dive in after me.”
The rowers were soon plucked from the water, chilled, but ultimately no worse for wear. However, a last place finish (in 5:55.762) for the crew was inevitable. Preceding them were gold medalist Saratoga (5:05.739), Maryland’s Walt Whitman (5:13.109)), T.C. Williams (5:16.467), James Madison (5:16.811), and Bethesda-Chevy Chase (5:34.811).
Still, long after the undesirable outcome of the final race has lost its sting, the Mounties can look back with fondness on the selfless actions of one of their own, and the bond of friendship formed in their boat.
The Mount varsity eight had engaged in a four-stage competition that began with six qualifying heats on Friday. In each group, the boats taking the top two places moved directly into the semifinals, while the next two went into the repechage, a sort of play-in round that allowed middle-of-the-pack crews an opportunity to reenter the main draw.
In its first-round race, Mount St. Joe [Mary Raggazino (cox), Maddie Lawn (stroke), Natalie Simms, Steph Eble, Kierra McCloy, Lauren Matchett, Kait Loftus, Michela Karrash, Leah Ramos] avoided the “reps” by placing second to Saratoga, which recorded the fastest time overall in qualifying. Later, the top crews out of the repechage fed back into the main bracket to complete the field for three six-boat semifinals.
Here, the first two in each section would punch their ticket to the medal race, while the next two finishers went into the petite final. Following closely on the heels of the freshman eight mishap, four varsity Mounties were swept off the dock when a gust of wind buffeted their boat as they were lowering it into the water to head up for the start of their semifinal.
In the race itself, eventual gold medalist James Madison won in 5:00.62, while the Magic came in fourth in 5:10.458. They were less than four-tenths of a second out of third place, but at number three they would have been consigned to the “petite” nonetheless. Racing in a different semifinal section wouldn’t have helped either, since the slowest time of any of the qualifying finalists was a 5:04.779 put up by Holy Spirit.
Near the end of the afternoon, Mount St. Joe finished fifth in the petite final (5:10.040), which was won by Bethesda Chevy Chase (5:04.970). Saratoga, which had been the fastest boat on the Cooper in both the heats and the semifinals, was edged out for the gold medal by James Madison, 4:50.477 to 4:51.337. New Trier (4:58.909) took the bronze medal, and was followed in by defending champ National Cathedral (5:01.705), Spirit (5:03.722), and Walt Whitman (5:09.816).