Penn Charter’s Kevin Kelly (lower left) and Spencer Grant pose with coach Hanne Duncan as they collect their silver medals for their performance in the junior double at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Area sculling programs got a combined total of five boats through to the finals of the Stotesbury Cup Regatta last weekend, and three of them came away with silver medals.

Penn Charter’s four-year-old program secured silvers in both the boys and girls junior double. The girls, stroke Heidi Zisselman and bow Maria Georgiou, were just a fraction of a second away from winning the gold medal. Their 11th-grade classmates in the boys boat were stroke Kevin Kelly and bow Spencer Grant, who finished in between a pair of entries from Ontario, Canada.

A silver medal in the senior single went to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy senior Jen Sager, who was part of the school’s gold-medal senior quad at the 2011 Stotesbury gathering. This year’s girls senior quad from SCH also reached the final race on Saturday afternoon, coming in fourth.

PC’s Grant and Kelly had the second fastest time in the qualifying heats on Friday morning, easily earning their place among the 12 boats advancing into the semifinals. Lower down in the overall field of 29 boats, tandems from SCH and Germantown Friends did not make the cut-off, ranking 14th and 22nd, respectively. The top half of the field was closely spaced, and SCH’s Seth Bakes and James Meadows were just a third-of-a-second off the time recorded by the last qualifier.

The SCH boys had a tough time in general, with only one of six entries making it past the opening round. The only advancer was the senior double staffed by Drew Adubato and John Olson, who qualified ninth out of the 12 boats that moved ahead from a field of 21. The top three boats from each of the two semifinals moved on to the championship race, so the Blue Devils saw their run come to an end when they placed fifth in their race.

On the girls’ side for SCH, the two finalists were the only boats out of five entries to get past the qualifying stage.

Two of six vessels that started out for the PC Quakers went by the boards, with a boys senior double missing out by less than a second-and-a-half. In addition to the successful junior doubles, a girls junior quad and a boys freshman quad from Penn Charter advanced out of their initial time trials on Friday.

The junior quad (Katie O’Malley, Celina McCall, Julia Mammone, and Tara Malone) finished the qualifying sixth out of a field of 18 (12 advanced). In their semifinal race the Quakers placed fourth, four seconds behind the third-place crew that moved on to the finals.

A sixth-place result in the qualifying round was also achieved by the freshman quad (Peter Ciarrocchi, Ethan Ashley, James Paolini, Chad Coursen). Because there were only a dozen entries to begin with in this category, there were no semi-final contests and the six top qualifiers went directly into the medal race on Saturday afternoon. Here the Quakers duplicated their sixth-place outcome of the day before.

Andrew Bair, a Germantown Friends School 11th-grader who rows out of the Bachelors Barge Club, had gone undefeated in the junior single on the Schuylkill this spring, but that category is not part of the Stotesbury program. Bair had to move up to the senior single last weekend, but even though he was racing against a number of older rowers, he placed 11th out of the field of 40, with a time nine seconds off the pace of the leader.

He was one of the top 18 who qualified for the semifinal round. His weekend wrapped up with a sixth-place showing in his semifinal contest, but he had demonstrated that he should be competitive at the senior level next year.

In the girls senior quad for Springside Chestnut Hill, senior Anna Valciukas was the only returning rower from the Lions’ 2011 gold medal crew, remaining in the bow seat. From stroke to the two seat, the line-up featured sophomore Alana Noble, senior Katie Blake, and junior Emily Eisler. Fourth among the 12 qualifiers on Friday morning, SCH moved on to the finals with a third-place performance in the first of two semifinal races.

The final on Saturday developed into two almost separate contests, with medalists (in order) Conestoga High, Episcopal Academy, and Woodbridge (Va.) leaving a gap between themselves and the other competitors. The Lions won this second stage, coming in fourth ahead of Sacred Heart and the Baldwin School, both from Bryn Mawr.

The first of the area medal winners was the girls junior double from Penn Charter. The same two Quakers had finished fourth at Stotesbury in 2011, and this time around Georgiou and Zisselman started out in a field of two dozen tandems. They qualified easily, ranking fourth out of the 12 boats that advanced. In their semifinal they were the runner-up, a little over a second-and-a-half behind Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, located in the Canadian crew stronghold of St. Catherine’s, Ontario.

Theirs was the faster semifinal race, and the two boats duked it out again in the finals. Just a few dozen meters from the finish line PC appeared headed for victory, but Holy Cross overtook the Quakers in the last few strokes to win the gold. The Canadians crossed in 5:40.35, with PC a sliver of a second behind at 5:40.76. North Jersey’s Ridgewood High took the bronze in 5:41.56, followed by a duo from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and two Philly-area boats, Conestoga and Sacred Heart.

As stroke Kevin Kelly pointed out, it was “two’s” all around for the boys junior double from PC. Their silver medal final, which they rowed in lane two, was preceded by second-place outcomes in the qualifying round (where 29 twosomes began the regatta) and in the second of the two semifinal races late Friday afternoon.

The only anomaly was that the Quakers had the fifth-fastest time overall out of the six boats that made it to the finals.

“We were a little worried about that, mainly because we didn’t want to get put in lane five or six by the island [where the backwash can make the water more turbulent],” Kelly said. “When they gave us lane two we were happy, and we said to ourselves, whatever it takes, we’re going to make sure we’re at that medal dock.”

Like the girls, the PC boys faced a formidable Ontario opponent; E.L. Crossley Secondary School was the defending champ in the category and had returned its stroke-seat for the 2012 season.

Sluggish starts earlier this spring the year led the Quakers to work on that aspect of their racing in their practices leading up to Stotesbury.

In the final, Kelly recounted, “Our start was one of the best we’ve had. E.L. Crossley went ahead around the [Strawberry Mansion] bridge, and about 500 meters in I think we were actually fourth, though we were close with Conestoga and Governor Simcoe [another Ontario outfit].”

Crossley would lead all the way to the finish, while Charter first moved ahead of Conestoga and then overtook Simcoe. The latter boat tried to move on the Quakers late in the race, but PC countered and captured the silver medal in 4:56.48, about four seconds behind Crossley (4:52.66).

The bronze went to Simcoe, the last of the finalists in the four-minute bracket at 4:57.60. Ranged behind them were Ballston Spa (N.Y.), Conestoga, and St. Joseph’s Prep.

The Canadians are traditionally tough in singles racing, as well, but last weekend SCH’s Sager faced a talented competitor from just this side of Niagara Falls, Buffalo’s Eliza Frank. A senior at the Park School who is headed to Syracuse University, Frank has raced internationally in larger vessels as a member of the U.S. Junior National Team program.

Sager said that in the geographical sense, “This was a broader range of schools [a total of 26] than I’d ever raced against before.”

She was happy to rank fourth out of the 12 qualifiers, since she hadn’t exerted herself fully. The same held true for her second-place finish in her semifinal race on Saturday morning.

The rower who won that particular contest collapsed on her oars after finishing, while Sager said, “I felt I still had a lot of gas in the tank.

“Instead of really extending myself to get the best lane for the finals,” she continued, “I decided to conserve energy and then deal with the lane assignment when that came along. The only thing that worried me a little was that I could see from the times that I was in the slower semifinal.”

She drew lane five, a decent strip of water and certainly preferable to number six, the “lane of death” alongside Peter’s Island.

“The final was one of the most intense races I’ve been in,” she said. “Halfway down the course the first five boats were basically all even. It wasn’t until 500 meters to go that it started to spread out. Then we were fighting for places and I just pushed it out as best as I could.”

Park School’s Frank, who qualified second and then put up the fastest time in the semifinal round, won the gold medal in 5:45.36, with Sager securing the silver in 5:47.65. The bronze medal and fourth and fifth place went to Canadian singles from Oakridge Secondary (5:49.21), Grimsby, and Welland Centennial, and in sixth place was a New Jersey rower from Mother of Divine Grace.

Sager, Frank, and the sixth finalist could well meet again this weekend, since all three have signed up for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America championships in Camden, N.J.