by Tom Utescher

The rowers in Mount St. Joseph Academy’s Class of 2019 gave themselves a terrific send-off last Saturday afternoon. Just a few weeks before graduation, every Mount senior who raced in the prestigious Stotesbury Cup Regatta won a gold medal.

The first Mount two boats that rowed in the finals on Saturday finished sixth, then the junior (varsity) eight came closer to medaling, coming in fourth.

In the middle of the afternoon, the lightweight eight captured the first gold medal for the Magic. Senior coxswain Sofia Bernal presided over 12th-grade classmates Harriett Blatney, Claire Broderick, MaryKate Ciolko and Shayne McKernan, as well as junior Caitlyn Lawson and sophomores Kaylee Dougherty, Caroline Kyle and Nicole Uzzo.

After the lightweight four came in fifth in its final, the MSJ second eight won gold. From coxswain Izzy Mina to bow seat Aine Playdon, this boat was staffed entirely by seniors. In between Mina and Playdon were Nora Hogan, Emily Lubinski, Maureen McGreevey, Eileen McKenna, Aydin McPhilemy, Eva Timoney and Julia Woodrow.

Gold medal number three was earned in the very last race of the regatta, the senior (varsity) eight final. The Magic led almost wire-to-wire, as cox Katie Greed called the tune for classmates Katie Edling, Riley Gorman, Gia Hunt and Caroline Timoney. Junior Mae Sweeney and sophomores Hannah Lemanowicz, Maggie Newell and Cate Van Stone completed the crew.

The Mount senior eight had last won Stotesbury gold in 2015, and then Washington’s National Cathedral School took the title three years in a row. The Magic claimed the silver medal last year when dangerous currents on the Schuylkill caused the regatta to be relocated, and crews endured a rainy nightmare on Camden’s Cooper River.

To a degree, last year’s varsity struggled to find its identity, but this year’s group had been pretty solid all the way through, even though the one junior and the three sophomores came in to join the experienced seniors. Mount varsity coach Mike McKenna said that at the start of the fall season, many of the rowers raced in fours instead of eights, and the top 10th graders showed their prowess.

When put together in the eight, McKenna related, “One of the younger girls made the comment, ‘We actually really like each other!’ In that sense, it usually seems to help to have a crew that’s spread across different classes. It’s a good group.”

In terms of performance, he noted, “They’ve been pretty steady all year long and they continue to progress, so there’s no reason to change much. The whole year they haven’t lost to any other high school crews, only some top club crews we saw in the fall and the spring. I think they actually have more speed still to gain than our other crews, believe it or not.”

In the lightweight eight, the Mount repeated as Stotesbury champions last weekend, while the second eight moved up to the gold medal after winning the bronze in 2018.

This year, aside from a little rain late in the day on Friday, weather conditions were among the best seen at Stotesbury. Mount signed up eight boats for the fray, and all but one advanced out of the first round of racing on Friday, which consisted of single-file timed head races.

The senior eight was the fastest qualifier, five seconds ahead of Maryland’s Walt Whitman High School. The light eight was a dozen seconds quicker than the second-ranked crew, and the second eight was number one in its trials, again five seconds faster than a Walt Whitman boat.

Back around 9 a.m. on Friday, the first Mount crew to launch for the trials had been the freshman eight. The Magic ninth-graders (Annmarie Wallis – cox, Sarah Burns – stroke, Christina Kelly, Grace McDonough, Leah Manzo-McCottry, Julia Geib, Sarah Powell, Kate Kelly and Maeve Carmody) were timed in sixth place in a field of 47 competitors.

A total of 55 boats started out in the junior four event, and here the Mounties (Ella Valencia – cox, Emma Dougherty – stroke, Maddy Donahue, Olivia Guza and Ruby French) ranked 15th out of the 18 crews advancing into three six-boat semifinals. The junior eight (Lauren Walsh – cox, Kaitlyn Squadrito – stroke, Sydney McKernan, Claire Hanycz, Molly McKenna, Ena Altier, Ilsa Maguire, Julia Ianieri and Nora Broderick) was fifth in its time trial, where the top time belonged to an Ocean City High School crew that had won the Philadelphia City Championships two weeks earlier.

The lightweight eight trials that the Mount won handily included just 11 boats to begin with, so the top six here were sent directly to the finals.

McKenna noted that the light eight has not been as consistent as the varsity during the spring campaign. Although the members of this crew have largely remained the same throughout the season, they’ve been aligned in many different ways in an effort to hit upon the most successful formula. They were port-rigged, then briefly they were bucket-rigged and finally they were starboard-rigged at Stotes.

The Mount’s lightweight four found itself in a starting field twice as large as that faced by the eight. Here, the Magic (Caroline Donahue – cox, Izzy McCafferty – stroke, Ainsley Morasco, Grace Morrow and Moira Ferry) joined the 12 boats heading to the two semifinal races thanks to a fifth-place showing.

Three of the six MSJ crews that raced in the semifinals won their races. The senior eight posted the best time overall, but Maryland’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School boat was only one-third of a second off the Mount’s pace.

In the junior eight, the Mounties won the second of three semifinals with the top overall time, although Ocean City and Branksome Hall (from Toronto) put up times within a second of the Magic’s. The MSJ second eight won the first of the two semifinals in its class, but Walt Whitman registered the best time in winning the second section.

Mount’s freshman eight, junior four and lightweight four each placed second in their semifinal races. In the first two categories, there were three semi’s, and there were two for the light fours.

Assigned to the relatively slow lane six alongside Peter’s Island for the finals, the Mount freshmen finished sixth in a race that, curiously, included seven boats. It seems that for this one final, a lane zero was created close to the riverbank. National Cathedral’s ninth-graders won the gold medal by about a second-and-a-half over Merion Mercy Academy. The Magic’s junior four also finished sixth in its final (out of lane five), with Owen Roberts winning by almost three seconds over silver medalist Denis Morris of Ontario.

In the junior eight, Ocean City outbattled Branksome Hall for the gold medal, beating the school by less than half a second. From lane four, the Mount finished fourth, just over a second behind bronze medalist Saratoga (New York) High School.

Mount fans’ wait for a medal ended when the lightweight eight took gold. Supporters began celebrating as their crew sped alongside Peter’s Island, comfortably ahead of the nearest two challengers. The Magic won in 4:43.90, while in a Main Line battle for the silver medal, Radnor High School edged Merion Mercy 4:49.74 to 4:49.77.

“They were very happy, and from what I gathered they felt they had a strong row,” McKenna said. “They’re probably right about where they should be right now, but they know we’ll be seeing some good competition we haven’t faced before over the next few weeks.”

After the light eight raced, the lightweight four turned in a performance that was in line with its lane number, producing a fifth-place finish. Merion Mercy had put a lot of emphasis on this event, and won the gold medal by a slice of open water over New Jersey’s Montclair High School.

In the final hour of competition at the 2019 Stotesbury, Mount seized gold medals in its last two races. The second eight was leading from the time it came in view of the grandstand, and Walt Whitman was the one rival that remained anywhere close to the Magic.

Just below Peter’s Island, Whitman’s bow ball seemed about to move even with the Magic’s front deck, but the coxswain, Mina, got a final burst out of her Mounties. They picked up four seats just over the final 50 meters, approximately, winning in 5:04.24 to the Maryland crew’s 5:06.53. Bronze medalist Ocean City wandered in at 5:13.83.

After some initial jockeying for position between several boats coming off of the starting line, the Mount led the rest of the way in the varsity eight final.

“They didn’t go out as quickly as they can,” McKenna remarked. “The nature of that group is they’re fairly consistent. They may not be the fastest off the line, but they don’t give up much and then they gain momentum.”

Whitman made a valiant attempt to stay with the leaders going down the stretch, but the Mounties looked like they were firing on all eight cylinders and wouldn’t be denied.

They powered across the line in 4:44:87 to Whitman’s 4:47.76. BCC won the bronze medal in 4:50.89, and National Cathedral finished fifth this time around.

After the official ceremony in which gold medals and the Robert Engman trophy were awarded to the Mount senior eight, it sunk in that every MSJ 12th-grader who had raced now owned a gold medal. Since it was the last event of the entire regatta, the other Mount seniors descended onto the awards dock, and the ritual of tossing the winning coxswain into the river turned into a kind of Mount pool party in the Schuylkill.

The Mount will finish out the 2019 season with a couple of long road trips, first traveling to the Scholastic National Championships in Ohio and then to the U.S. Rowing Youth Nationals in Florida.

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