by Tom Utescher
A group of area rowers trekked to Florida last weekend for the last major regatta of the high school spring season, the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton. By the end of the three-day event, Mount St. Joseph’s lightweight eight proved the top crew from single school in its category, placing fourth in the “A” final behind three club crews.
Sculling in a single, Germantown Friends junior Andrea Berghella won the “C” Final in his event, essentially ranking 13th in an elite field drawn from all over the country. Mount St. Joe’s also had its varsity eight and its lightweight four racing at the regatta.
The other “national” regattas operated by the Scholastic Rowing Association of American and the National Scholastic Rowing Association are restricted to boats in which all rowers attend the same high school, while at the Youth Nationals, club crews are thrown into the mix.
The club vessels regularly contain athletes from a number of different schools, broadening the talent pool they can draw from. Compared to the institutions back East, very few high schools on the West Coast run their own rowing programs, so clubs dominate the racing scene.
In addition, the club crews routinely compete in 2000-meter races, the same distance as the contests at the Youth Nationals. Many true high school outfits spend much of their season on 1500-meter courses.
Because competitors literally come from all over the country and must qualify to enter, the regatta format provides at least three races for almost everyone. In most categories, the top several performers in each heat go directly into the semifinals, while the others filter into a “repêchage” round that gives them a change to work their way back into the semi’s. Even most of the lower finishers in the “reps” get to row a third time in the “C” final of their event. The top three in each of the two main-draw semifinal races earn a berth in the “A” final, while the other three are slotted into the “B” final.
The fact that Mount St. Joe’s varsity eight and lightweight four were among the few boats in their categories that raced only twice signaled a disappointing weekend for those two crews.
The varsity eight, coxed by Sabrina Ghantous and powered by (stroke to bow) Steph Eble, Christina Knox, Olivia Tice-Carroll, Maddie Lauinger, Alaina Hunt, Maddie Carlton, Dana Mischler, and Alex Uzzo, won the Philadelphia City Championships and the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, both held on the Schuylkill in Philadelphia.
In the first of four heats at the Youth Nationals, the Mount finished fifth ahead of a Manhasset (N.Y.) High School crew that had been runner-up to the Magic at Stotesbury, but had fared better than the Mounties at the Scholastic Nationals over Memorial Day Weekend. Mount St. Joe was timed in 6:56.491, while three of the heat winners put up times in the high 6:30’s – not an insignificant disparity.
In this, one of the most highly-populated categories at the regatta, only the heat winners advanced directly to the semi’s. In each of the four repêchage races, the top two crews would move into the semifinal round, completing the 12-boat field still in the running for the A Final. The four third-place boats in the reps would earn a spot in the C Final, where the last two berths would go to the crews with the two fastest times out of the remaining boats.
The Magic were fifth in their rep in 7:08.629, while the two boats that reached the “C” final based on their times were Merion Mercy Academy (one spot ahead of the Magic in their rep race with a time of 7:02.616), and Hingham (Mass.) High School (7:02.862).
The Mount lightweight four was rowed by Liz DeGroat, Grace Little, Emma French, and Brooke Gimaro under the direction of cox Olivia Kylander. Fifth in their initial heat race with a time of 8:09.360, they shifted into the reps. Here, they improved their time to 8:02.045, but their seventh-place finish did not allow them to continue on into the C Final.
Going it alone, Germantown Friends’ Berghella missed a trip straight through to the semi’s by one spot, coming in third in the second of four heats with a time of 8:00.200. The 11th-grader, who had been a silver medalist at the City Championships, chopped almost half-a-minute off that time in the repêchage. Unfortunately, that lower figure of 7:32.380 netted him third place in the second of the two rep races, and again he was one spot short of a semifinals berth.
Assigned to the C Final on Sunday morning, he made the best of his situation by winning a dramatic sprint that had the first three boats finishing in about a 1.5-second window. In 7:39.904, Berghella prevailed over runner-up Peter McKendall (7:40.603) of Narragansett Boat Club in Providence, R.I. and third-place Spencer Kankel (7:41.434) of Los Gatos Rowing Club, which is situated near San Jose, Calif.
Mount St. Joe’s lightweight eight had won the gold medal at Stotesbury, and was a close runner-up at Scholastic Nationals. Lindsay Maiale serves as coxswain for the feathery franchise, commanding Erin McGreevey, Vicki Matsinger, Shannon Hughes, Zoe Ramos, Molly Whalen, Julia Comerford, Rachel Sandquist, and Katelin Cordero.
The MSJ lights got to skip the reps thanks to a strong performance in the heat racing, where they placed second in the fastest of three sections while posting the second-fastest time overall (in 6:58.170). Saugatuck Rowing Club set the time standard by churning down the course in 6:51.164.
The Mount had beaten this Connecticut crew at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Invitational back in April, but that had been on a 1500-meter course. In Florida, it seemed that Saugatuck had peaked at just the right time, as they won the A Final easily in 6:48.229. California’s Oakland Strokes (6:52.055) captured the silver medal over New Jersey’s PNRA/Mercer club (6:52.454), which is based outside of Princeton.
The Magic had no one in their immediate vicinity as they crossed the line fourth in 6:55.516, comfortably ahead of the Cincinnati Junior Rowing Club (6:59.773). In sixth was a rare single-school entry from the West Coast, Seattle’s Holy Names Academy (7:00.237).
The jaunt to the Sunshine State was just the beginning of Mount St. Joseph’s travels. Most of the rowers who competed in Florida are heading right over to the Henley Women’s Regatta, which will be staged on the jolly old River Thames June 19-21.