At the finish line, Mount second eight stroke Sam Altomare (left) rests, while coxswain Annarose Clark exults. Behind them is runner-up Holy Spirit. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

At the finish line, Mount second eight stroke Sam Altomare (left) rests, while coxswain Annarose Clark exults. Behind them is runner-up Holy Spirit. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

“Then they started to fly; they looked backward and said goodbye.” – Blue Oyster Cult

In one of the final races at the Philadelphia City Crew Championships last Sunday, Mount St. Joseph varsity eight coxswain Sabrina Ghantous had the luxury of turning completely around in her seat at the stern and checking out the Magic’s margin of victory. At the finish line, the senior knew the race wasn’t close.

Her oarswomen, (stroke to bow) Steph Eble (stroke), Christina Knox, Olivia Tice-Carroll, Maddie Lauinger, Alaina Hunt, Maddie Carlton, Dana Mischler, and Alex Uzzo, propelled the MSJ flagship to victory in five minutes, 2.720 seconds. Silver medalist Merion Mercy Academy was a full five seconds behind, and New Jersey power Holy Spirit was another half-second back.

When the May medal races arrive, the Mount usually manages to ratchet its performance up a few notches, and last Sunday the Magic made an auspicious start in this critical phase of the season. The varsity eight’s triumph netted the school’s fourth gold medal of the day, and there were three silvers, too. The Magic had signed 10 boats up for the regatta, and nine of them ended up in the finals.

In what is becoming an annual tradition, the Mount also collected the girls’ sweep-rowing points trophy for the Manny Flick regatta series that concluded on April 19. The Magic outscored their nearest competitor by the better part of 200 points.

While most MSJ boats had to earn their passage to the finals in qualifying heats in the morning or early afternoon, a few went straight through to the finals due to the small number of entries in their categories.

Skipping the preliminary round were the Magic’s lightweight eight (Lindsey Maiale – cox, Erin McGreevey – stroke, Vicki Matsinger, Julia Comerford, Zoe Ramos, Molly Whalen, Shannon Hughes, Rachel Sandquist, Katelin Cordero) and second eight (Annarose Clark – cox, Sam Altomare – stroke, Alana Cianciulli, Brynn McGillin, Jenny DiPietro, Danielle Kosman, Nina Lawlor, Emma Tenzinger, Maddie Finnegan).

Each crew would emerge victorious. The lights, who’d had their hands full with Merion and Holy Spirit throughout the spring, gained some separation on Sunday. Their winning figure of 5:08.120 gave them some breathing room over runner-up Spirit (5:12.560), who was six seconds ahead of Merion.

Holy Spirit, a perpetually strong program from Absecon, N.J., gave the Mount more of push in the second eight, with the Magic prevailing by just over one second at 5:18.460.

Mount St. Joe’s first goal medal was acquired early in the afternoon, when the rookies ruled the river. The novice eight (Maddie Walsh – cox, Mia DiGregorio – stroke, Jen DeGroat, Kaitlin Eney, Erica Arnold, Julie Flynn, Lily Tubman, Karsen Healy, Claudia Langella) dueled with Episcopal Academy well in front of the other finalists. The Mounties finally got the better of the Churchwomen, with their respective times working out to 5:26.830 and 5:27.470.

All the members of the MSJ crew were freshmen, and nine of their classmates raced in the designated freshman eight. This bunch (Nina Taglianetti – cox, Cathryn Antonacio – stroke, Maddie Sandquist, Maddie Curran, Faith Hughes, Gabi Natale, Sam Cordero, Kerry Faust, Grace Sowa) logged the third-best number in the time trials, but in the finals they slipped to fifth place.

In the victorious Mount varsity eight, spray settles around stroke Steph Eble (left) as coxswain Sabrina Ghantous turns to catch a glimpse of rival crews. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In the victorious Mount varsity eight, spray settles around stroke Steph Eble (left) as coxswain Sabrina Ghantous turns to catch a glimpse of rival crews. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The freshman four (Abby Schwenger – cox, Aileen Mansfield – stroke, Rebecca Patti, Emily Little, Christie Faust) fared better, picking up the Mount’s first silver medal of the day. They were nine seconds behind Harriton High School in the trials, but reduced the gap to four seconds in the final race. In both cases the Mounties placed ahead of Doane Academy, which hails from Burlington, N.J.

Like the freshman four, the Magic’s JV four (Shannon LoStracco – cox, Allie DiPietro – stroke, Celine Mina, Paige Comtois, Emma Veon) has enjoyed considerable success this spring, and on Sunday this boat, too, struck silver. They were the fastest crew in the time trials, but the fifth-best boat in trials, Moorestown High, vaulted up to the top of the podium in the finals. A little under two seconds behind, the Mount won a close battle for second over Harriton.

Mount St. Joe’s lightweight four (Olivia Kylander – cox, Liz DeGroat – stroke, Emma French, Brooke Gimaro, Grace Little) has had some good days this spring, but Sunday wasn’t the best of them. Fourth in the time trials, they’d hoped to a reduce the seven-second gap that separated them from top-seeded Absegami (N.J.) High School when they got to the final. Instead, they slipped back into fifth place.

About half-an-hour before the light four’s final race, Mount St. Joe captured its third silver medal of the regatta thanks to the JV eight (Emily Woodrow – cox, Brooke McMahon – stroke, Demi Simms, Cait Hagan, Alex Natale, Julianna Hunt, Mia Fitzpatrick, Michelle Lipovsky, Grace Comerford). The Magic JV’s placed second behind Montclair (N.J.) High School in the trials and in the finals, and third both times was another Garden State franchise, Haddonfield High.

The last weekend of April, the MSJ oarswomen had taken their show on the road to upstate New York, participating in the sprawling Saratoga Invitational. The lightweight eight won, but the varsity finished sixth. They were the top finisher among single-school teams, but having five of the big club crews come in ahead of them provided a new perspective on their performance.

MSJ’s top octet came back refocused for City’s, and it showed. After winning the time trial and earning the assignment to lane three for the medal race, the Mount held a modest lead as the finalists touched the tip of Peter’s Island with about a quarter of a mile to go.

At that point the Magic simply shrugged off the competition. There are times when the collective determination of a band of rowers seems visible and almost palpable, and here was one. As the Mounties drilled down the middle of the course, it was clear there would be no meaningful counter-sprint from any of their rivals. The others were left chasing after the silver and bronze medals; the gold indisputably belonged to Mount St. Joseph.