After receiving her gold medal in the varsity single event, SCH senior Jen Sager strokes back down to the boathouse. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

There were overcast conditions along the Schuylkill for the start of the Philadelphia City Championships last Sunday, and initially the prospects were cloudy for area schools as not all of their rowers fared well in the early going. But as the weather improved throughout the day, so did the fortunes of Mount St. Joseph, Penn Charter, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, and Germantown Friends, which each came away with at least one gold medal.

The Mount churned out an impressive six-second victory in the girls’ marquee event, the varsity eight, while also winning the JV eight final and snaring a silver medal in the lightweight four and a bronze in the lightweight eight.

Penn Charter, now in the fourth season of its rowing rebirth, was happy to claim a single bronze medal at the 2011 Cities. Last weekend, the Quakers captured two gold medals (boys JV double and girls novice double), two silvers (girls JV double and boys novice quad), and a bronze (girls JV quad). One of just three rowers for GFS, Andrew Bair, continued his season-long win streak in the JV single with a gold-medal effort.

Similarly dominant in the girls varsity single, senior Jen Sager struck gold for Springside Chestnut Hill, as did the boys novice single and the girls novice quad. Another boys novice rower won a bronze medal in the single, and there were third-place finishes for the boys novice quad and the girls lightweight double.

Most boats had to qualify in morning head races (where crews race the clock, not each other) in order to reach the finals in the afternoon, but in some categories the number of entries was low enough that the boats went straight through to the medal races. In all the qualifiers, the crews with the six fastest times advanced.

The three/four seat combo for Mount St. Joseph, Emily Carbone (left) and Dana Zielinski, celebrate after winning the varsity eight gold medal at the City Championships. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In the very first event of the day, two of three novice singles from Springside Chestnut Hill made the cut. Jimmy Klauder put up the best time overall, six minutes, 7.08 seconds, and fellow freshman Rayan Bousso was third. The two switched spots in the finals later on, with Bousso bagging the gold medal in 6:24.85, while Klauder captured the bronze (6:34.51), following the runner-up from Inter-Ac League rival Malvern.

In the boys novice quad, there were qualifiers from both Penn Charter (stroke to bow: Peter Ciarrocchi, Ethan Ashley, James Paolini, and Chad Coursen) and SCH (Andrea Dragani, Thomas Andrews, Tommy Sivick, Matt Miller). In keeping with their qualifying places, PC finished second in the finals (5:34.24) and SCH took the bronze (5:38.93) behind gold medalist Malvern.

Two girls boats which did not have to qualify in the heats were the SCH novice quad (stroke to bow: Henney Hambrose, Camora Love-Mitchell, Elizabeth McClafferty, Breon West), and the Penn Charter novice double (Sophie Eldridge, Rachael Gordon). Both came away from the finals with gold medals. The SCH quartet won in 5:51.79, more than eight seconds ahead of number two Conestoga High, while the Quakers’ combo clocked in at 6:34.18, 13 seconds in front of runner-up Sacred Heart.

A golden disk also was awarded to Germantown Friends’ Bair, who has won every JV single event on the Kelly Drive course this spring. He was the fastest qualifier by seven seconds, and in the final he posted a time of 5:41.27, which put him all alone in front of the pack, which was led by a rower from Roman Catholic High School in 5:53.44. Standing 6’4” but underweight, Bair will be racing in the senior single category at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, in which there is no JV single event.

Mount St. Joseph’s day got off to a rocky start as the first four boats to race were unable to qualify. The closest to making the cut was the freshman eight, which placed eighth.

Things perked up around the MSJ tent when the JV eight came downriver, clearly having a good row. Cox Annie Tenzinger urged her rowers (stroke to bow – Maddie Lawn, Maddie Westcott, Lauren Matchett, Jacqueline James, Jocelyn Ziemniak, Emily Ruddy, Gwynedd Kieffer, and Natalie Simms) on to the second-best qualifying time, at 4:53.95 to Montclair High’s 4:52.51.

A time of 5:31.92 netted fifth place and a trip to the finals for the lightweight four, in which cox Madi Kist called cadence for Emily McHugh, Rachel Heller, Maura O’Donnell, and Elizabeth McKernan. One of two Magic second eights just missed qualifying with a seventh place showing, but the “A” boat moved on with a third-place time of 5:06.52. In this vessel, coxswain Alyssa Pagliaro was preceded downriver by Kate Jones, Briana Sylvester, Cathleen Keene, Becca McCool, Emma Thompson, Sarah Krmpotich, Carly Scullin, and Caroline Carbone.

The Mount varsity eight qualified easily at the front of the field. The Magic’s time of 4:42.14 put them more than seven seconds ahead of the closest rival. Cox Erin McElroy was directing the usual suspects, Dana Lerro, Julie McGlynn, Katie O’Connell, Darian DiCianno, Dana Zielinski, Emily Carbone, Rose Ehrlich, and Kiera McCloy.

Back in the small boat racing, SCH and GFS were unable to qualify in the boys JV double, but Penn Charter juniors Kevin Kelly (stroke) and Spencer Grant put up the fastest qualifying time, two seconds ahead of Ridgewood High from northern New Jersey. The Garden State duo gave the Quakers a real workout in the final, but PC pulled out the gold medal victory, recording a time of 5:14.35 to the second-place figure of 5:14.82.

Ridgewood was also the chief rival for the girls JV double from Charter. PC juniors Heidi Zisselman (stroke) and Maria Georgiou qualified a little over five seconds ahead of the Maroons, who were in third, a fraction of a second behind Conestoga. Ridgewood went on to win the final, though (in 6:08.85), while the silver medal was culled by the Quakers (6:10.81) and the bronze went to Conestoga (6:16.56).

“We were disappointed, but Heidi and I looked on it as a learning experience,” remarked Georgiou, a Chestnut Hill resident. “In the early races this year we were out in front of everybody most of the time, and it was valuable to have to the experience of needing to really race all the way down the course.”

The other Charter medal was the bronze earned by the girls JV quad (stroke to bow: Katie O’Malley, Celina McCall, Julia Mammone, and Tara Malone), which had also been third in the qualifying heat. The top qualifier, Conestoga, also won the final, while the third-place Quakers (5:42.67) were between two New Jersey crews, runner-up Haddon Township and number four Egg Harbor.

In all, the five-medal effort at Cities was a major step forward for PC crew.

“All of our boats that went on to the finals ended up medaling,” Georgiou pointed out. “We’re really happy, and proud of our team.

“We’re spending a lot more time actually practicing out on the water than when I was a freshman,” she explained, noting that the program has become better-equipped over the last few years. “A couple of years ago we saw we had potential and we acted on it. Everyone’s been working really hard, and we knew that we could have an impact at the City Championships.”

Another JV quad that reached the finals was the SCH boys’ boat. Blue Devils (stroke to bow) Peter Anthony, Dylan Brush, Larry Wargo, and Will Elliott qualified fifth and then took the same place in the medal race.

The girls varsity quad for SCH (Alana Noble, Katie Blake, Anna Rose Bedrosian, Anna Valkciukas) also had the identical results in both its successful qualifying effort and in the finals, placing fourth in each race.

Due to dearth of entries, the SCH girls had their lightweight quad, lightweight double, and varsity single go straight to the finals without needing to qualify. The first two boats brought up the rear in their contests, but the double (Maddy Canning-stroke, Marguerite Zabriskie-bow) lucked out, receiving a bronze medal because there were only three boats in the race.

Earlier in the season, two North Jersey single rowers arrived one at a time to take on SCH’s Sager in the varsity category. She defeated each of them individually in Manny Flick regattas, and last Sunday she topped both of them in the Cities final. Sager came through in 6:13.07, ahead of Mary Hamilton of Mother of Divine Grace (6:19.56) and Averyl Freimarck of Glen Ridge (6:22.17). The closest local competitor was from Conestoga, fourth in 6:40.04.

Mount St. Joe’s first medal, a gold, came via the JV eight, which overcame Montclair, the top qualifier. The Magic won in 5:12.14, with Montclair second (5:13.60) and fellow New Jerseyans Holy Spirit in third (6:20.16). Next, the Mount claimed a rare “fours” medal as the lightweights captured silver (5:48.17), arriving in between victorious Egg Harbor (5:44.34) and Agnes Irwin (5:51.23).

The lightweight eight final featured a two-boat race out front, with Holy Spirit (5:01.24) prevailing over Montclair (5:02.69). In third coming alongside Peter’s Island, the MSJ lights (5:15.23) faced a strong sprint from both New Jersey’s Moorestown High (5:15.90) and Egg Harbor (5:18.47), but fought back to bag the bronze.

The Magic second eight finished just out of the medals, coming in fourth at 5:24.87 right behind Oakcrest (N.J.) High School (5:23.22). Spirit won in 5:17.67.

Undefeated on the Schuylkill this spring, the varsity eight Mounties knew all their fellow finalists would be eager to pull an upset.

“We had a strong start,” said senior stroke Dana Lerro, who signed with Duke University last November. “Other crews had good moves, but we made sure that we paid attention. I think we could all see [New Jersey’s Bishop] Eustace, just because they were so close to us on the port side. Radnor [High School] was harder to see because they were on the outside, but Erin [the coxswain] kept us aware of them.”

In a distinguished career at the City Championships, Lerro had won a gold medal in the novice eight as a freshman, and followed that with varsity eight victories in her sophomore and junior years. She was able to celebrate four in a row as the Magic steamed past the timing tower in 4:52.72, while Eustace (4:58.64) and Radnor (4:58.85) dueled to a photo finish for the silver and bronze medals.

Spirit was fourth (5:01.24) just ahead of Merion Mercy (5:01.38), which had been a strong contender during the Manny Flick series and had qualified second at Cities. New Jersey’s Absegami was well off the pace, sixth in 5:12.44.

“We had a good Flick season so it was nice to do it again when it counted in a medal race,” Lerro said. “It’s exciting, because it’s the first part of the ‘trifecta’ for Philly crews; Cities, Stotes, and Nationals.”

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