Germantown Academy’s Elizabeth Wescott (left) and Julia McKernan row up to the starting line for their senior double final. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

It was a weird, wet Stotesbury Cup Regatta. None of the iconic landmarks usually taken in by visiting crews at the world’s largest high school regatta were anywhere to be seen last weekend.

Reacting to rain that arrived on Tuesday and just wouldn’t leave, the organizers decided that the high swift waters and the floating debris that would flow down the Schuylkill to the Kelly Drive course would make it too dangerous to hold the massive event there.

For the safety of the rowers, the regatta committee managed to move the entire operation in the space of just three days. The new location was the Cooper River racecourse in Camden, where water control measures, including a dam and recent dredging, created more lake-like conditions.

At least one boat from each of the area sculling programs got through to the finals. Germantown Friends sent three through, and had James Wright win the silver medal in the senior single. Two boats from Germantown Academy and one from Penn Charter appeared in the finals, while one of two Springside Chestnut Hill entries to reach the final round, the girls’ freshman quad, earned a bronze medal.

Everyone started out on Friday in timed qualifying races, with most of the crews that made the cut in their events going straight into the finals on Saturday. Since there are no “novice” categories and relatively few freshman events at Stotesbury, a number of young rowers were entered in junior varsity categories against more experienced rowers, and that showed.

Out of the 42 boats originally entered by the four schools, 13 made it past the qualifying heats. In four events with a high number of entrants, six area boats that advanced out of the initial heats went into a semifinal round. This extra stage was missing in a number of other categories, where the fastest six boats in qualifying went straight to a finals race.

The girls in the GFS lightweight four (Gabby Schwartz [cox], Sam Pancoe [stroke], Isabel Mehta, Sophie Henisz, Luzia Nehez) were fifth in qualifying and joined the field of 12 semifinalists in their event. In that next round the Tigers needed to finish third in their section to gain the finals, and they came in fifth.

In the qualifying heats in the boys’ senior double two boats moved on. SCH’s Sean Edling and Austin Gedrich were timed eighth, and the last spot for the two semifinal races was secured by the 12th-place Penn Charter duo of Matt Kestenbaum and Matt Groshens. Both twosomes then raced in the first semifinal section; Penn Charter placed sixth, and SCH was fourth, missing the cut for finals by a little over three seconds.

On the riverbank in the foreground, fellow GFS crew members react as senior James Wright wins the silver medal in the varsity single. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

There were also two semifinalists in the girls’ senior double. In the initial heats, GA’s Elizabeth Wescott and Julia McKernan were ranked sixth, and Penn Charter also advanced with an 11th-place time turned in by Maria Perry and Anna Pogrebivsky. Again, both area tandems were in the same semifinal, the second race in this instance. The PC scullers’ weekend ended with a sixth-place outcome, while the Patriot pair nabbed third and made it into the final round on Saturday afternoon.

In the boys’ senior single there were 40 entries overall, and 18 boats were to advance into three semifinals. After that, they would have to place in the top two in their semifinal race to reach the six-boat final. Germantown Friends’ Wright produced the fastest qualifying time by over nine seconds, and Germantown Academy’s Isaac Wilkins was in the middle of the pack, in ninth place.

Wright won the first semifinal contest with the fastest time overall, but a sculler from Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Ontario was two seconds behind, and another second back, in the third semi, was a soloist from St. Anthony’s in New York. GA’s Wilkins ended his Stotesbury weekend with a sixth-place outcome in the third semifinal race.

After heavy rains for Saturday morning’s semifinal rounds, conditions improved when the finals got underway early in the afternoon. The schedule had been moved up since more precipitation was forecast for later on in the day, and sure enough more rain arrived during the awards ceremonies in one of the large tents erected on the site.

First up in the finals for area crews was the boys’ junior double event. In qualifying, GA’s Charlie Shafer and Dylan Robertson posted the fastest time, while Nick Djerassi and Ryan Milkman of Penn Charter clocked in fourth to move into the medal race. Unfortunately, neither boat picked up any hardware as GA finished fourth and PC sixth, with the three medals going to two boats from New Jersey and one from Texas.

A promising ninth-grade class in the SCH program includes the freshman quad crew of Ella Webb, Polly Sweeney, Kiley McTamney and Olivia McHugh. They qualified third, and that ranking carried through to the finals as the Blue Devils claimed the bronze medal. A quartet from Charlottesville, Va. won handily, while SCH finished more than four seconds ahead of Ridley College, from Ontario.

Springside Chestnut Hill’s freshman quad crosses the finish line to claim the bronze medal. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

A highly successful boys’ boat for SCH this spring has been the lightweight quad containing Elliott Cunningham, Eliot Rusk, Gyre Jaeger and Ian McLelland. Since there was no event in their category at Stotes, they entered the junior (JV) quad class, where they competed against open-weight scullers but still qualified sixth out of 25 entries.

Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) High School won the final by a comfortable margin, while the Blue Devils came in fifth, less than a second behind a boat from Virginia’s Tidewater region and ahead of a traditional Philly sculling school, Roman Catholic.

Germantown Friends had gotten girls’ quads through to the finals in both the junior and senior categories. The junior quartet, made up of Kim Hua, Annika Ehrlacher, Isabel Ortega and Amory Park were fifth in their qualifying heat, while the senior quad staffed by Zaynab Sanogo, Vanessa Mirage, Amelia Sanchirico and Taliah Broadus, ranked sixth.

Both boats would move up a spot in the finals. The junior quad placed fourth and was quite close to medaling, timed just over half-a-second behind bronze winner Ridgewood (N.J.) High School. The Tigers came in fifth in the senior quad final, where the silver medal went to an Episcopal Academy boat stroked by Roxborough resident Josie Konopka.

In between the finals featuring the GFS quads, Germantown Academy’s Wescott and McKernan appeared in the senior double race. The Patriots, who finished sixth, were the only finalists from the Philadelphia area, and all three medals here went to Canadian duos.

For area scullers, the last finals race that demanded their attention was in the boys’ senior single. GFS senior Wright, a member of the U.S. Junior National Team last summer and a gold medalist at the 2017 and 2018 Philadelphia City Championships, looked like he was going to add Stotesbury gold to his collection as he led less than 50 meters from the finish.

He had St. Anthony’s senior John Karen right with him though, and a late and powerful sprint carried the Long Island sculler to the finish line first. In lane two, Karen crossed in five minutes, 41.78 seconds, with Wright (a Stanford recruit) next to him in lane three with a silver medal time of 5:42.29.
Many of the same scullers from the local environs will be back on the same Camden course this weekend for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta.

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