by Tom Utescher

Most Philadelphia area rowers – if they’re good enough – end their season in the Scholastic Rowing Association of America national regatta, held annually over Memorial Day weekend.

This year, half-a-dozen scullers from the Chestnut Hill Academy/Springside School crew took things one big step further, qualifying for and attending the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships. Staged outside of Cincinnati, OH throughout most of its history, the regatta was moved this year to Melton Lake in Oak Ridge, TN.

Featuring six-boats-abreast racing over a still-water course measuring 2000 meters (the collegiate and international standard, and longer than the 1500 meters crews row at SRAA’s and most high school races), the USR’s are open not only to high school boats, but to age-equivalent club crews that have athletes from a number of different schools racing together in one vessel. In cases where crews compete at the USR’s and one of the Henley regattas in the same year, its not unusual for them to be more successful in England than at the American gathering.

CHA’s lightweight double, manned by juniors Drew Adubato and Carl Delacato, did well to win their opening heat at Melton Lake, advancing directly to the semifinals and bypassing the “repechage” stage, a sort of feed-in bracket for the semifinal round.

The semifinals pitted the Blue Devils against truly formidable opponents, and they finished fifth, which put them in the “B” final (which effectively decides places 7-12) on Sunday, June 12. Here they also battled for fifth place, but were edged out by less than half-a-second by Woodlands, a Texas club crew.

In a running battle with Girls Inter-Ac League rival Episcopal Academy throughout the 2011 season, Springside’s senior quad won the gold medal at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, but EA won the SRAA’s a week later while the Lions took away the silver medal. Springside has seniors Verity Walsh and Taylor Apostolico filling the stroke and three seats, and ahead of them are juniors Jen Sager and Anna Valciukas in the two seat and the bow.

The Episcopal Churchwomen nipped the Springsiders once more at the USR’s in Tennessee, although this time the Episcopal victory came in the “C” final (places 13-18) instead of the medal race.
“When we saw we’d end up racing one another again, we said that we might as well have stayed in Philadelphia and done it there,” Walsh joked.

The 12 boats that finished ahead of these two were all from club crews with the exception of New Canaan (Conn.) High School, which placed fifth in the “B” final.

While rowers from the CHASS program attend the SRAA regatta every year, they appear less frequently at the U.S. Rowing extravaganza. For that reason, a trip to the latter event is an eye-opening experience for the Blue Devils and Lions.

“The competition was a lot different than we’re used to,” remarked Walsh, a Chestnut Hill resident and a National Merit Scholar who will attend Columbia University. “In January, Jen and I went to a U.S. National Team ID camp (where U.S. coaches observe prospects for the Junior National Team) in Tempe, Ariz. We saw a lot of girls who’d been on the national team and who were so far ahead of everyone else, and we saw all of those girls again in Tennessee, so we knew it was going to be a huge challenge.”

CHA’s Delacato agreed, “All the club teams that go there make it very competitive. They were very fast and also, their kids were huge.”

He and his partner weren’t particularly worried about moving up to the 2000-meter distance, knowing they’d have less weight to pull down the long course than most of their rivals.

“For Drew and I it was a little bit of an advantage because we were lighter than a lot of those guys,” he explained. “We’re used to making the limit for scholastic lightweights, which is 155 lbs., and down there the lightweights were allowed to be 160 lbs., which is what the club guys are used to.”

Through the spring season the two athletes switched in and out of quads and doubles with other CHA scullers, and Adubato rowed a single on occasion. They were both in a JV quad that won the bronze medal at the Philadelphia City Championships at the beginning of May, and two weeks later they joined up in the light double (where they’re known as “Team Badocato”) and reached the finals of the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, finishing fifth.

They did not race at SRAA’s, but they had already earned a spot in the Youth Nationals at U.S. Rowing’s Mid-Atlantic qualifying regatta on May 14 and 15.

The Chestnut Hill double won its opening heat race by 0.65 seconds over Detroit Rowing Club, and thus moved straight into the semifinals. There, the competition grew much tougher, and with a fifth-place outcome, the Devils joined the field for the “B” final on Sunday.

New Canaan High School, a longtime sculling power from Connecticut, won that race in a time of 7:20.93, while second place went to CHA’s own Inter-Ac League rival, Malvern Prep (7:21.35). Although Team Badocato was farther back on the course, they still staged a dramatic finish, getting squeezed out of fifth place by Woodlands, 7:32.20 to 7:32.57. In the “A” final in the same category, a duo from the Seattle Rowing Center took the gold medal in 7:04.99.

“It shows how selective the clubs can be, with that large pool of guys to choose from,” observed Delacato.

In the girls’ quads, Springside’s times were slightly faster than Episcopal’s in both the opening heats and the repechage round. Neither of the Philly area boats was able to reach the semifinals, though, and they’d make their final appearance in the “C” final on Sunday morning.

Knowing how good many of their competitors would be throughout the regatta, Walsh said, “We went into it with kind of an easygoing attitude.

“Our boat adjusted to the change in distance pretty well,” she went on. “The only way to get through that extra 500 is to pretend that it’s the middle of the race again. It you think of it as finishing your regular race and then rowing 500 meters more – that just won’t work.”

The “C” final turned out to be a real Philly affair, with Berwyn’s Conestoga High School joining the fray and finishing up with the bronze medal. Springside led going into the final 500 meters, but with two rowers who could qualify for lightweight racing with more than a couple pounds to spare, the Lions just couldn’t hold off the Episcopal sprint.

The Churchwomen won in 7:22.71, Springside took the silver medal in 7:27.01, and Conestoga copped the bronze in 7:30.57. A Connecticut quad, GMS Rowing, won the gold medal in the “A” final, crossing the line in 7:02.40.

Neither Springside’s Apostolico (who’ll attend Cornell University) nor Walsh had planned on continuing their rowing careers in college, but now Walsh said she might reconsider.

“It’s only been a couple of days since our last race,” she said, “ and I already miss rowing.”