Members of the Mount St. Joseph varsity eight wearing the medals they won at the Head of the Schulkill Regatta in October.  (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fasy)

Members of the Mount St. Joseph varsity eight wearing the medals they won at the Head of the Schulkill Regatta in October. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fasy)

by Tom Utescher

Although spring is universally regarded as the primary high school crew season, serious rowing programs such as Mount St. Joseph Academy are busy training and competing throughout the autumn months.

Most of the competitions in the fall take the form of head races, contests where boats do not race side-by-side, but are ranked strictly on time. The best known is the expansive Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, where on October 18 the Mount St. Joe varsity eight placed 13th in a field of 85 crews, some hailing from as far away as California and the state of Washington. Every boat that finished ahead of the Magic belonged not to a single high school, but to a rowing club that draws its athletes from a number of sources.

The Mount graduated three rowers and the coxswain from last year’s Stotesbury Cup champion varsity eight. The two returning rowers who are now seniors have already made verbal commitments to Ivy League colleges, stroke Steph Eble to Harvard, and four-seat Alaina Hunt to Penn.

The other Mounties who were in the V-8 last spring are now juniors; three-seat Maddy Carlton, bow Christina Knox, and five-seat Maddie Lauinger.

The Magic graduated a strong class of coxswains last spring, and one of this year’s seniors, Sabrina Ghantous, has presided over the varsity boat this fall.

“Sabrina will probably sit with the varsity eight,” said varsity crews coach Mike McKenna. “We have three juniors contending for the other boats, and they’re all pretty good.”

Among college crews, Mount St. Joe coxswains tend to be in high demand; three of last year’s group are now at Georgetown, Princeton, and Stanford.

The three rowing vacancies created by the departure of the class of 2014 have been filled by juniors this fall. Alaina Hunt’s sister, Julianna, has stepped into the two seat, while Dana Mischler is at number six and Olivia Tice-Carroll is next door at seven.

Eble, who has participated in U.S. junior national events, was missing for the first two races of the fall season. In the Kings Head Regatta on the upper Schuylkill at the end of September, Mount St. Joe’s time of 17 minutes, 3.81 second put the Magic in the runner-up spot behind Catholic Academies rival Merion Mercy (17:00.37).

In another Philly-area event two weekends after that, the Mount varsity boat was third at the Navy Day Regatta, behind runner-up Merion and the winning club crew from New Jersey, Princeton National Rowing Association/Mercer.

A strong boat all fall, PNRA/Mercer came in second a week later at the Head of the Charles, eclipsed only by Saugatuck Rowing Club. This Connecticut crew looks to be the dominant power in New England this year.

The 13th-place Mounties were first among the true high school crews, and the Magic’s “B” boat also gave a good account of themselves, landing in 26th place, while Merion finished 31st.

MSJ “B”, Coach McKenna explained, “was basically the five returning kids from our lightweight eight, augmented by some of the stronger JV kids.”

Once settled in, the line-up in this vessel consisted of coxswain Olivia Kylander and rowers (stroke to bow) Erin McGreevey, Rachel Sandquist, Demi Simms, Alex Uzzo, Grace Comerford, Cait Hagan, Katelin Cordero, and Vicki Matsinger. All are juniors except for Comerford, a sophomore.

Back in Philly for the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta on the last weekend of October, the Mount varsity finished third overall behind Saugatuck and Connecticut Boat Club.

The final two races of the 2014 season occurred on the same weekend and were staged on Mercer Lake, near Princeton. In the Philadelphia Frostbite Regatta on November 8, the 2000-meter varsity race was won by PNRA/Mercer in 6:57.78, while Mount St. Joseph was second (7:08.60) and Virginia’s Walt Whitman High School was third (7:24.38). MSJ “B” raced in the second flight, where they won in 7:21.41.

The following day the Braxton Memorial Regatta was held on the same body of water, but on a 1500-meter course. Two crews from PNRA/Mercer pulled off a one-two finish in 4:53.34 and 4:59.94, while the Magic’s varsity eight was third in 5:03.64, and the “B” boat was fifth in 5:06.35.

In overview, McKenna said of the fall season, “It didn’t quite match my expectations, but we had a lot of little nagging injuries that held us back.”

The junior class is unquestionably talented, but it wasn’t as easy for McKenna to get a read on the sophomores, many of whom play a regular fall sport and weren’t under his purview.

“There are around 35 freshmen who have been working with us this fall,” he reported. “It looks like they’re pretty athletic, but at this stage you can’t really tell.”