Nick Moeller (left) and Derek Walkush cross the finish line in Germantown Academy’s varsity double. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The youngest of the area sculling programs, the GFS crew made a highly successful showing last weekend at the 2017 Philadelphia City Championships last weekend on the Kelly Drive course. The Tigers came away with seven medals, including gold medals in the girls’ novice single and boys’ varsity single.

The one-person vessels did well overall for local schools, with a gold medal going to Penn Charter’s girls’ JV single and silvers to Germantown Academy’s boys’ JV single and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s girls’ JV single. GA also took home a silver medal in the boys’ varsity double.

This year, the championships were expanded from a one very busy (sometimes frantic) day to two days, with qualifying races held on Saturday, and semifinal and final rounds on Sunday.

The list of different categories for the championships was a long one, but in a number of cases they were sparsely populated. For the qualifying process (based solely on time in “head” racing with one-by-one starts), in some events a crew only needed to avoid finishing last or next-to-last in order to make it to a six-boat final on Sunday.

In some cases, the number of entries was small enough that qualifiers could be skipped entirely and the crews were slotted directly into the finals on the regatta’s second day. Four Germantown Friends boats went through to the final round in this manner, the girls’ varsity single (Laila Okeson), the boys’ varsity pair (Raz Allon, Eric Shen), and the lightweight quads for both boys (Gabe Sher, Wiley Corlett, Finn Kassel Osborn, Seve Reitano) and girls (Ayla Malefakis, Kim Hua, Chloe Smith-Frank, Maya Esberg).

Joining Okeson in the varsity single final would be Germantown Academy’s Lindsay Naber, and going straight into the finals of the girls’ JV single were Maria Perry of Penn Charter and Nahla Turner of Springside Chestnut Hill. There was also no qualifying needed in the varsity quad for the girls of Penn Charter (Kelsey White, Lucy Alter, Sydney Nixon, Emma Grugan) and the boys of SCH (Dane Hoffman, Phil Wrede, Justin Xin, Kyle Scholl).

The month of May is always hectic for high school students, especially upperclassmen. At the various team tents on Saturday afternoon, there was talk of how to hustle rowers from the race course back home to prepare for a prom that evening. Most the rowers who had plied the Schuylkill in March and April for Springside Chestnut Hill decided to deal with this time conflict by not participating in the city championships.

The Blue Devil crews that actually took to the water were the two boats that were only scheduled to race on Sunday along with a boys’ novice quad and a boys’ lightweight double that started out on Saturday. The quad missed the cut by one place, but the double containing Damian Betancourt and Elliott Cunningham qualified sixth out of 13 entries and advanced into the finals.

Of the area scullers who made it through Saturday’s qualifying, only one boat needed to participate in the short semifinal round of racing on Sunday morning. This was Penn Charter’s boys’ JV double.

In an initial field of 19 entries, Matt Kestenbaum and Matt Groshens of the Quakers qualified ninth out of the 12 tandems that advanced to the semi’s. They’d need to finish third in their semifinal to make the final round, and placed fifth in that race.

For some area crews that missed qualifying did so by a very close margin. Just one-and-a-half seconds, for example, separated the GA senior double of Emma Rapp and Mikayla Fassler from a trip to the finals. In the case of Germantown Friends’ JV quad there was an unforeseeable mishap. With more than a third of the race still to go for Andy Regli, Lily Zukin, Isabel Ortega, and Sam Pancoe, one rower’s oar popped out of its oarlock and could not be reinserted. She drew in her other oar so as not to disrupt the craft altogether, and her crewmates pulled hard to finish the race, missing qualifying by two places.

PC’s Maria Perry wraps up her gold medal performance in the finals of the JV single event. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

GFS would claim the first gold medal of the entire regatta, though, as Zaynab Sanogo followed up her top time in qualifying with a winning effort in the novice single, prevailing by almost eight seconds. Penn Charter’s Zoe Thistle, who had been fourth in the qualifying, came in fifth in the final.

Fifth place also went to the girls’ freshman/novice double from GFS; the Tigers’ Taliah Broadus and Megan Hua had also ranked fifth in the qualifying phase. Their schoolmates in the male version of this event, Quentin McKnight and Jesse McIlhenny, were sixth in both the qualifiers and in the finals.

Sixth-place standing in both of these stages of Citys was also earned by the next area boat to race in the final round, the girls’ novice four from Germantown Academy, (Madison Seidman [cox], Lauren Paynton, Lindsey Maylin, Lily Connor, Maddie Kurtz).

Moving on to the quads, GA, GFS, and Penn Charter fans all had boats to root for in the finals of the boys’ novice category. In the initial round on Saturday, GFS (Doulin Appleberry, Jack Miller, Avi Kulkarni, Owen Keim) placed fourth, GA (Dylan Robertson, Max Fralic, Carmen Sinker, Daniel Krausz) fifth, and PC (Kelsey Kline, Trevor Harbison, Patrick Cannon, Charlie Markham) sixth.

In Sunday’s final GA would wind up one spot shy of the medal dock in fourth place, while GFS was fifth and Charter came in sixth.

The next race featured a girls’ freshman quad from Germantown Friends (Amory Park, Vanessa Mirage, Isabel Mehta, Meg Bigelow) that reached the finals with a number five ranking in qualifying. They climbed up a notch in their Sunday finale, coming in fourth with a comfortable margin over the fifth-place boat.

A few events later the JV portion of the program began, and the opening race brought PC a gold medal, courtesy of Perry in her single. While she won by about 10 seconds, there was a pitched battle for the silver medal that was won by Turner of SCH. She topped her Friends Select rival, 6:54.65 to 6:54.71.

After qualifying first in the boys’ JV single, GA’s Isaac Wilkins battled in the final with a Hatboro Horsham High School rival. In the end, the Hatter had the gold just a second ahead of Wilkins, who was 18 seconds in front of the bronze medalist from Roman Catholic High School.

In the girls’ JV double, Penn Charter’s Anna Pogrebivsky and Zoe Tierno had reached the finals by taking the sixth qualifying spot, and that was the same place they ended up with on Sunday afternoon.

The qualifying in the girls’ JV quad had produced a fifth-place showing for Germantown Academy, and in the finals the Patriots (Elizabeth Berlinger, Julia McKernan, Addy Campbell, Ava Hook) were overtaken by Shipley School’s entry, and finished sixth.

More than four hours after earning its first medal, the Germantown Friends School crew collected a second one when the girls’ lightweight double came down the course. The Tiger tandem of Katie Maguire and Ellie Cheung had qualified first, then they won the silver medal in the finals. The gold medalists were from Baldwin, the school where GFS head coach Aaron Preetam had previously taught and coached. GFS was well ahead of the bronze medal combo from Ridgewood (N.J.) High School.

In the next race, Springside Chestnut Hill’s Betancourt and Cunningham finished sixth in the boys’ lightweight double final.

Next came the two GFS lightweight quads that had gone straight into the final round due to the relatively low number of entries in their categories. The girls’ boat earned the school’s third medal, a bronze, finishing behind Agnes Irwin and Shipley and ahead of Notre Dame and Friends Select. There were only three boats overall competing in the boys’ section of this event, and the Tigers’ quad came away with a silver medal after finishing in between Conestoga High School and Roman Catholic.

Another bronze medal went in Germantown Friends’ pocket as the varsity-level racing began with the girls’ single. Okeson earned this one for the Tigers, and in fifth place in the same race was Germantown Academy’s Naber. Ahead of these two, just three-tenths of a second separated North Jersey ace Julia Giannotta, the gold medalist, from Strath Haven’s Danielle Mervine.

Just a little later, GFS took possession of its second gold medal and sixth medal overall when the Tigers’ closest thing to a sure bet raced in the boys’ varsity single. Junior James Wright looked firmly in control as he crossed the line first with a seven-second margin over a soloist from Strath Haven High School. He had qualified first by almost a dozen seconds.

GA’s Derek Walkush and Nick Moeller had been first in the qualifier for the boys’ varsity double, with Malvern Prep a little over a second slower. The Friars, an Inter-Ac League rival, turned the tables in the final, winning the gold medal while the pair of Patriots took the silver ahead of Conestoga.

Next, two GFS Tigers each put both paws on one oar as they raced a varsity pair; Shen and Allon had gone straight to the finals but found themselves seeded into one of the less desired lanes, number one. Coming in six seconds behind the winners but almost 11 seconds ahead of the boat behind them, they won the bronze medal to round out the Tigers’ total of seven shiny objects.

As mentioned earlier, there was no qualifying round needed in the varsity quad class, and two area entries went straight through to the final. Both were seeded in outside lanes and were unable to break through for medals.

The Penn Charter girls were one spot away in fourth, and the boys of SCH were fifth in the race that followed.

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