Mount St. Joseph Academy’s varsity eight (foreground) powers away from Holy Spirit near the end of the City Championships final. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher
Most schools would have been overjoyed with the results the Mount St. Joseph Academy crew produced at last weekend’s Philadelphia City Championships on the Schuylkill, but for the storied Mount program, it almost seemed like another day at the office.

The Magic entered 10 boats into competition and had all 10 reach the finals on Sunday. The JV eight, coxed by Abby Schwenger and powered by Julia Woodrow (stroke), Julia Flynn, Katie Hallahan, Lauren Kiefner, Emily Lubinski, Claire Broderick, Sam Cordero, and Eileen McKenna, just crushed it, winning the gold medal by nearly 10 seconds over the runner-up.

The final race was a good deal closer for the lightweight eight (Maddie Walsh [cox], Karsen Healy [stroke], Emma Veon, Erica Arnold, Emma French, Brooke Gimaro, Molly Whalen, Maddie Curran, Maddie Sandquist), but this boat also triumphed, and in the marquee event at the end of the regatta, the varsity eight, Mount St. Joe (Shannon LoStracco [cox], Caroline Timoney [stroke], Brynn Pelletier, Grace Comerford, Alex Natale, Gia Hunt, Gabi Natale, Cathryn Antonacio, Katie Edling) gave a convincing performance to capture the school’s third gold medal.

Mount St. Joe had two JV fours entered in the regatta, and out of a starting field of 23 competitors one crew won the silver medal and the other finished fourth in the finals. Silver medals also went to the novice eight and the second eight, and bronze medals were claimed by the freshman four, the freshman eight, and the lightweight four.

The various Mount boats took different paths to the finals on Sunday. Most got through by finishing among the top six in Saturday afternoon’s time trials. A few categories were thinly-populated and crews went right through to the finals with no qualifying round needed. This was the case for the Magic’s lightweight eight and the second varsity eight (Izzy Mina [cox], Sam Altomare [stroke], Michelle Lipovsky, Harriett Blatney, Celene Mina, Olivia Snakard, Aydin McPhilemy, Riley Gorman, Paige Comtois).

The two JV fours sent out by the Mount followed a more involved process, going through both qualifying and a semifinal round in order to reach the medal race on Sunday afternoon. Lower Merion High School’s entry was clearly the fastest boat in this group of 23 participants.

In the time trials, the Magic’s “A” boat (Sofia Bernal [cox], Kerry Faust, Aileen Mansfield, Eva Timoney, Katelynn Clement) placed third behind LM and Egg Harbor (N.J.), and right behind in fourth was MSJ “B” (Gabby Ford [cox], Maureen McGreevey [stroke], Jess Webb, Aine Playdon, Laurel Chung).

The “A” vessel won the second of two semifinal races on Sunday morning, topping runner-up Egg Harbor. The “B” boat rowers, while a few seconds faster than their fellow Mounties, were in the same semi as Lower Merion, and finished second.

When the City finals got underway later Sunday morning, first up for the Mount was the freshman four containing Mia Picciotto (cox), Kaitlyn Squadrito (stroke), Brigit Ferry, Libby Fecak, and Ainsley Morasco. They had qualified fourth in the head races, but in the medal round they leapfrogged Vineland (N.J.) High School to wind up on the awards dock.

Next came the novice eight (Katie Davies [cox], Caitlin Lawson [stroke], Libby Donahue, Molly McKenna, Mae Sweeney, Bern Shields, Holly Householder, Olympia Ransom, Erin Shea Mirabella), which had qualified third out of 15 entries the previous day. They moved up a spot in the finals to take the silver medal behind Moorestown (N.J.) High School, coming in more than a dozen seconds ahead of third-place Villa Joseph Marie Academy.

After qualifying first out of the 11 boats that started out on Friday, the Magic’s freshman eight (Lauren Walsh [cox], Grace Morrow [stroke], Meghan Scheffey, Nora Broderick, Annia Hobe, Julia Ianieri, Alex Lerro, Lauren Vesey, Anna Murphy) was in contention for the gold medal two-thirds of the way through Sunday’s final.

The crew then appeared to catch a crab as they started to come alongside Peter’s Island. Ocean City High School, which had been just a fraction of a second behind the Mounties in qualifying, won the gold medal, and another New Jersey crew, Holy Spirit High School, seized the silver medal ahead of bronze medalist Mount St. Joseph.

In the JV four, Lower Merion proved to be the fastest crew in the regatta from beginning to end, taking the gold medal. However, the two Mount finalists fared well, with the “A” boat stroked by Faust finishing as the silver medalist while the “B” boat with McGreevey in the stern secured fourth place.

Mount supporters in the grandstand hoped their hunger for gold would be satisfied by the JV eight, which had stormed through the head races with a 14-second margin on the closest rival boat. The rest of the field got a little bit closer on Sunday, but not much, as the Magic jayvees steamed down the middle of the course to win in five minutes, 16.93 seconds, easily eclipsing silver medalist Merion Mercy (5:26.31) and bronze medal winner Radnor High (5:30.17).

New Jersey’s Absegami High School had been the fastest qualifier in the lightweight four, and they would go on to win the gold medal. In the finals the Mount boat (Katie Greed [cox], Shayne McKernan [stroke], MaryKate Ciolko, Nora Hogan, Hailey Goodyear) seemed about to underscore its second-place status from the head races, but on the other side of Absegami, in lane two, Bishop Eustace High made a late charge and edged the Mount for the silver medal by 0.21 seconds.

The Magic lightweight eight, which had gone straight to the finals, also received a challenge from an inside lane, but the Mount responded to Merion Mercy’s closing sprint in time, and took the gold medal in 5:15.76 to the Golden Bears’ 5:17.21.

The second eight, which also had skipped a qualifying round, gave Holy Spirit a good run in the finals, but came up just short of the Spartans by less than one-and-a-half seconds. That effort put the silver medalist Magic well ahead of the bronze crew from Mainland High School, which was another 23 seconds back.

In the varsity eight qualifying, Mount St. Joseph captured the top spot about one second ahead of Holy Spirit, a crew with which the Magic had dueled during March and April.

Asked what he’d been emphasizing in the varsity’s training leading into the major May regattas, Mount coach Mike McKenna said, “I guess in one word it would be ‘focus.’ We’d been somewhat inconsistent in how we race, how we row, how we practice. There was a little too much attention on external things.”

There have also been a few line-up changes in the Magic flagship late in the season. Last weekend the boat contained three seniors, three juniors, and three sophomores.

“Maybe the line-up changes make people focus, or the focus happens on its own when we discuss it,” McKenna mused. “I don’t know – it’s something of a black art.”

A little overexcited at the start of Sunday’s race, according to McKenna, the Mounties began a little frenetically but soon recovered. Spirit challenged the Mount much of the way in the final, with Haddonfield (N.J.) also right in the mix.

“Once they got down to their racing tempo, they moved very well,” the Mount’s mentor commented. “They’re developing confidence in their ability as a boat, learning to relax and let the boat do the work for them.”

The Magic’s sprint settled the issue, and with coxswain LoStracco rocking in her seat even more vigorously than her oarswomen, Mount St. Joe won in 4:56.42. The silver medal went to Spirit in 4:59.45, and the bronze to Haddonfield in 5:00.19.

“It wasn’t a question of just hanging on to win,” McKenna said. “It was ‘we’ve got this, let’s finish it,’ which is something I hadn’t seen before.”

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