Mount St. Joseph’s varsity eight, Stotesbury Cup gold medalists. From left: Coach Mike McKenna, Dana Lerro, Julie McGlynn, Katie O’Connell, Darian DiCianno, Erin McElroy (cox), Dana Zielinski, Emily Carbone, Rose Ehrlich, Kiera McCloy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Squaring off against top crews from Florida and Virginia, the varsity eight from Mount St. Joseph Academy captured the gold medal last Saturday at the 2012 Stotesbury Cup Regatta. The annual oar-fest on the Schuylkill is billed as the oldest and largest high school regatta in the world, and last weekend’s victory gave the MSJ Magic their fourth gold medal in the V-8 event (called the “senior” eight at Stotesbury), with the other wins coming in 2005, 2006, and 2010.

“There was some very fast competition,” observed Mount varsity coach Mike McKenna. “I wasn’t expecting to dominate, but I was hoping we’d have our best race last, and that’s what happened.”

Mount St. Joe’s flagship claimed the Robert Engman Trophy with a time of four minutes, 48.34 seconds, ahead of runner-up National Cathedral School (4:50.32) and James Madison High School (4:51.29). National Cathedral is an all-girls school located in Washington, and James Madison, from the D.C. suburb of Vienna, Va., is the top crew in the state and was undefeated coming into Stotesbury.

Nipping at the bowball of Madison’s Warhawks was the fourth-place boat from Winter Park, FL (4:51.34). Winter Park and another Orlando area school, Lake Brantley, were the top two crews in Florida this spring, but last weekend Lake Brantley finished fourth in its semifinal and failed to reach the championship race.

These southern powers ran into a Mountie crew that is at the peak of a chronological cycle, with eight seniors and one junior in line-up this spring. The upperclassmen, who all made college commitments during the NCAA’s early signing period last November, are rowers Emily Carbone (Georgetown) Darian DiCianno (USC), Rose Ehrlich (Drexel), Dana Lerro (Duke), Julie McGlynn (Drexel), Katie O’Connell (Northeastern), Dana Zielinski (Clemson), and coxswain Erin McElroy (Northeastern).

The lone underclassman, up in the bow seat, is Kiera McCloy.

“We definitely have a lot of character, and we’re just like a go-get-‘em crew,” revealed McGlynn. “We’re not satisfied with rowing a decent race; we got out every time to be as competitive as possible. We just have a lot of spunk, I think.”

Mount St. Joseph also earned a silver medal at Stotesbury, thanks to the junior eight, and two other MSJ finalists, the lightweight eight and the freshman eight, finished sixth.

Out of the Magic’s eight original entries, six made it through the qualifying time trials on Friday, the first day of the regatta.

The lightweight four (Emily McHugh, Rachel Heller, Maura O’Donnell, Elizabeth McKernan, and coxswain Madi Kist) qualified seventh out of 12 boats who advanced in that event. They placed fourth in one of two semifinal races, missing the finals by just over one second.

The junior four secured the 17th spot out of 18 boats that moved on from the trials. The crew of Sarah Curcio, Bridget Fitzpatrick, Quinn DeVore, Fiona Kelly, and coxswain Beth Weinrich ended their run with a six-place showing in their semifinal race.

The Mount’s freshman eight had its share of struggles this spring, but took a big step forward at Stotesbury by reaching the finals. The Magic frosh (Steph Eble, Jenny DiPietro, Brynn McGillin, Alaina Hunt, Imeriah Page, Tina Hendel, Josie Marrocco, Kate Stromberg, and coxswain Sabrina Ghantous) qualified third out of an initial field of 42 boats. A second-place finish in their semifinal race got them to the championship round, where they came in sixth.

In the lightweight eight, the Magic (Kait Loftus, Michela Karrash, Maureen Flynn, Kate Mirabella, Leah Ramos, Leah McGlynn, Meg O’Brien, Lexi Meister, and cox Mary Raggazino) ranked sixth among the 12 qualifiers, and then also posted the sixth-best time in the semi-final round, coming in third in its section in order to reach the finals.

There, the MSJ lights completed a Devil of a weekend with a third “6,” which was their final placing. The gold went to the lanky lightweights of New Jersey’s Holy Spirit High School, who have won all of their races on the Schuylkill this spring.

Another strong New Jersey program, Montclair High, continued its series of running duels with the Mount junior (JV) eight. The Magic had beaten the North Jersey franchise both in the final race of the Manny Flick series and in a battle for the gold medal at the Philadelphia City Championships on May 6. In Stotesbury qualifying last Friday the Magic against bested Montclair, but only by five one-hundredths of a second.

In the semifinals, the Magic (Maddie Lawn, Maddie Wescott, Lauren Matchett, Jacqueline James, Jocelyn Ziemniak, Emily Ruddy, Gwyn Kieffer, Natalie Simms, and coxswain Annie Tenzinger) and Montclair each won one of the three semifinals, with Montclair’s time a little better than the number put up by MSJ.

It shaped up as a classic final. Coming alongside Peter’s Island with less than 500 meters to go, Montclair had a slight lead over the Mount, who were closer to the riverbank in lane three. The Magic made a move and nosed in front near the lower end of the island, but Montclair countered with a sprint that won them the gold medal in 4:59.52, while the MSJ boat picked up the silver medal in 5:01.14. Branksome Hall, from Toronto, was farther back in third, at 5:05.76.

At the St. Andrew’s School invitational in April, the Magic’s varsity eight had raced, and beaten, National Cathedral, but at Stotesbury the Eagles came out of Friday’s time trial with the fastest time of the 34 participants, eleven-hundredths of a second ahead of MSJ. Winter Park was a second off the Magic’s pace and James Madison was another two-and-a-half ticks back.

Cathedral, Mount St. Joe, and Madison each won their midday semifinal races on Saturday, so for placement in the finals race officials went back to the qualifying times and positioned the three boats in lanes three, four, and two, respectively.

If you’d seen the members of any of these elite crews off the water, the Mount’s McGlynn would have stood out. A former lightweight rower who helped the Magic win Stotesbury gold in 2010, she’s just 5’5” tall, competing in an arena where height, and the accompanying limb leverage, are natural advantages.

She compensates with skill, power and determination. The coaches who recruited and signed her at Drexel never had any qualms; in fact, she placed third among all scholastic open-weight rowers at a large ergometer competition held at the Drexel Armory in February.

“With Drexel and the other colleges I talked to, size wasn’t a factor,” she related. “I’m not intimidated by the size of some of the girls; I welcome the challenge. I have the same amount of reach as the other girls in our boat – I just had to learn to adapt more. Like they say, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters.”

As expected in a deep final field, none of the big eights blew the others away coming off the starting line on Saturday afternoon. The senior eight races are the Stotesbury headliners, and this year the girls’ final came after the boys’, at the very end of the regatta.

“It’s tough going into that race knowing you’re one of the favorites,” Coach McKenna pointed out. “We rowed our usual race plan and the girls executed very well.”

As the leaders came alongside the island, National Cathedral was right with the Magic and Madison was battling on the inside, then the Mount began to separate.

“It was definitely neck-and-neck for awhile, then I felt us surge ahead, which was the best part,” McGlynn reaclled. “It’s one of those races I’ll always remember, and there’s no group of girls I’d rather win with.”

After the Magic and the Eagles crossed the line and James Madison and Winter Park scrapped for the bronze, New Jersey’s Bishop Eustace (5:00.33) edged out St. Andrew’s (5:00.99) for fifth place.

In the following day’s edition of the Washington Post, much was made of the fact that before the finals, the senior four-seat for James Madison twisted an ankle while walking along the riverbank. Fortunately, the Warhawks and the other “Stotes” finalists will be able to take another crack at Mount St. Joe this weekend, since all have indicated they’ll be attending the Scholastic Rowing Association of America (SRAA) National Regatta on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.

As McKenna pointed out, “We’ll see the same cast of characters, plus Saratoga [N.Y.] and the Midwest powers like New Trier.”

New Trier High School, from suburban Chicago, is the defending SRAA champion in the girls varsity eight.