by Tom Utescher

Most rowers are thrilled to emerge from a major regatta like the Stotesbury Cup with a medal of any kind. However, for most of its relatively brief history in the sport, the highly-successful Mount St. Joseph Academy crew has held itself to a gold standard.

At “Stotes” last weekend, an undersized Mount senior eight bested a number of larger rivals to capture a silver medal, and the junior eight and lightweight eight left the awards dock with bronze medals. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that it was at least a little bit disappointing for MSJ athletes and fans to see no gold at all among the Stotesbury booty.

It’s the first time that’s happened since 2003, three years after the crew program was launched at the school. In 2004 the lightweight eight and junior (JV) eight won the Magic’s first Stotesbury gold medals, and the senior (or varsity) eight triumphed for the first time the following year.

Since then, at least one Mountie boat has had the Midas touch at the annual event, until now. Just as when the Magic began to knock off once-dominant crews half-a-dozen years ago, its an indication of the ever-increasing popularity and competitiveness of women’s rowing.

One thing that doesn’t seem to change much at the Stotesbury Regatta is the weather; perpetually cool and damp on Friday, sunny and warmer on Saturday. On Friday, the three four-oared shells entered by the Mount faced large numbers of competitors, and each missed qualifying for the semifinals by just a few places. The boats raced for time in this initial stage of the regatta, and in most fours categories the top 18 moved on.

In a field of 54 crews, the junior four (Alyssa Pagliaro (cox), Geneva Russell (stroke), Jacqueline James, Gwyn Kieffer, Maura O’Donnell) ranked 20th, and the senior four (Annie Tenzinger (cox), Hannah Keller (stroke), Rebecca McCool, Kate Jones, Carly Scullin) was 20th out of the 50 boats in that class. The Magic’s lightweight four (Beth Weinrich (cox), Abigail Shreero (stroke), Emily McHugh, Bridget Fitzpatrick, Lexi Meister) was 21st in its qualifier, falling short of the semifinals by three spots.

The Mount freshman eight (Madi Kist (cox), Natalie Simms (stroke), Elizabeth McKernan, Michela Karrash, Lauren Matchett, Maddie Lawn, Jocelyn Ziemniak, Sarah Curcio, Leah Ramos) qualified easily early on Friday morning, timed seventh out of 41 crews that signed up.

In their category, only the top two, instead of the top three semifinalists earned a spot in the final race, and the MSJ frosh finished third in their semi contest.

Also ending up one spot away from a trip to the medal race was the Mount second eight (Mary Raggazino (cox), Steph Henrich (stroke), Cathleen Keene, Lauren Hamilton, Maddie Wescott, Sarah Krmpotich, Anna DelRicci, Katelyn Keane, Bobbie Sutton).

This group qualified sixth among the 12 that advanced to the semifinals. Racing in a semifinal that included the eventual silver and bronze medalists, the Magic came in fourth, and only three could move on.

The other three MSJ eights all went through to the finals and came away with medals, and each of them started out with second place in the qualifying section of the regatta.

The junior eight (Alex Kist (cox), Kiera McCloy (stroke), Meg O’Brien, Rachel Heller, Emma Thompson, Brianna Sylvester, Fiona Kelly, Emily Ruddy, Maureen Flynn) faced the greatest number of competitors, a full 50 entries. They proceeded to win the second of three semifinals with a time of 4:53.32.

New Jersey’s Montclair High School had been slightly faster both in the qualifying round and in the semifinals, winning its semi in 4:51.26. Two weekends earlier in the Philadelphia City Championships, the Mount junior vessel had run into the Montclair eight, earning a disqualification but also knocking the Jersey girls out of contention.

With this as part of its motivation, Montclair stormed to a gold medal in the Stotesbury finals in 4:45.39. Florida’s Lake Brantley High was second in 4:46.60, and the Magic took the bronze medal in 4:50.95, almost five seconds ahead of fourth-place Episcopal Academy.

The MSJ lightweight eight (Erin McElroy (cox), Molly Tenzinger, Kait Loftus, Paige Flynn, Leah McGlynn, Meg Bresnahan, Katie McCormick, Kate Mirabella, Colette McNeela) earned a bronze medal at the City Championships and duplicated that result last weekend. Holy Spirit, from the environs of Atlantic City, won the gold medal at both regattas. Winter Park, from Florida, had the fastest qualifying time at Stotesbury, but was second in its semifinal race to Spirit, which won in 4:44.43. Mount St. Joe was first in the other semi, at 4:46.79.

There was a false start in the finals, and the boats were recalled to the line.

“We started well the first time,” MSJ varsity coach Mike McKenna recalled, “but at the restart I think the girls were a little over-amped. They started rowing really high [in terms of strokes-per-minute], and they were just spinning their wheels. We were languishing back in fourth or fifth place for a while.”

The Magic lights rallied from there, but fell just a little short at the end. There was literally a photo-finish, with eight-tenths of a second separating Holy Spirit (4:49.12), silver medalist Winter Park (4:49.20), and Mount St. Joe (4:49.92).

“Obviously they were disappointed with their place,” McKenna said, “but I think they realized that after a bad start they rowed very well later in the race, so they’re looking forward to Nationals next weekend.”

The members Mount’s 2011 senior eight (Maggie Rush (cox), Dana Lerro (stroke), Meredith Bracken, Katie O’Connell, Darian DiCianno, Rose Ehrlich, Julie McGlynn, Katie Casebeer, Emily Carbone) are not the senior-dominated, physically-imposing group that populated last year’s boat. Only the coxswain and two rowers are 12th graders, and four of the rowers competed in the lightweight category earlier in their careers.

It’s routine practice for some schools, when the major regattas approach, to dismantle such a crew and try to assemble either a loaded lightweight boat or an über eight in the junior category. Over the long run, though, this practice discourages rowers who aren’t chosen for special duty, and Mount St. Joe doesn’t operate that way. In years like this, it means that a relatively young and small crew will have to row a near-perfect race to succeed.

The Magic did that to win gold at the City Championships, but last weekend a larger, stronger, and very determined Radnor High School crew was not to be denied.

“Radnor’s the real deal, and we knew that from the start of the season,” McKenna said. “We were happy to be able to beat them the times that we did.”

The Red Raiders had the best qualifying time and the fastest time in the semifinal round, and they pushed ahead of the field in the finals in a convincing manner. With a few hundred meters to go, Radnor led comfortably and it looked like the Mount might be in a three-way battle for the silver medal. The Magic asserted themselves at the finish to take second in 4:44.03, behind Radnor (4:38.43) but ahead of Winter Park (4:45.42) and fourth-place James Madison High School of Virginia (4:48.12).

“When a crew gets away from you, sometimes you could find yourself slipping from second back to third or fourth place,” McKenna commented. “I was happy with the way that we finished and I thought we rowed very well overall. The girls weren’t happy about not winning, but that’s the nature of the competitive athlete.”


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