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   May 22, 2008 Issue                                       

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Mount second eight leads 5-medal performance at Stotesbury

Mount St. Joseph had won the Stotesbury gold medal in the lightweight eight for four years running, but last Saturday the Magic (foreground) finished third behind New Jersey’s Holy Spirit (at left) and E.L Crossley from Ontario, Canada (background).” (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Last weekend at the sprawling spectacle known as the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, Mount St. Joseph Academy’s second eight was playing second fiddle to no one.

After winning the fastest of the semifinal heats, the Magic “two-vee” won the championship race by a full eight seconds over runner-up Thomas Jefferson High School of Alexandria, VA. In knocking off defending champ “TJ,” the second eight became the first Mount crew to win that category at Stotesbury, and the only MSJ boat to come home with a Stotesbury gold medal this year.

Although the Magic didn’t win the marquee event, the varsity eight, they took the silver medal, and they captured bronze medals in the lightweight eight, junior eight, and freshman eight. For the lightweights, the third-place finish was undeniably disappointing, since the Mount had won the event four straight times.

Still, none of the schools racing eights won more than one gold medal, and none aside from the Mount claimed more than two medals of any variety (New Jersey’s Holy Spirit won the lightweight eight and was third in the varsity race). The Magic won four Stotesbury medals in 2007.

After seeing their crewmates garner the three bronze medals, the second eight rowers became one of the Mount’s two last hopes for gold in 2008.

Speaking of the third-place finishes, and particularly the upset of the lightweights, two-vee rower Lawren Kieffer said, “Actually, that scared us, but we felt we had to recapture some pride for the Mount.”

The line-up in the boat hasn’t changed much throughout the spring, and the girls get along well.

Kieffer, a senior bound for Brown University, noted, “We hang out together all the time, and we just had a boat sleep-over, which was really fun.”

She rows the five seat, and the rest of the line-of consists of seniors Meg Farris (three), Becky Lederer (seven), Gina Perri (cox), and Molly Thompson (four), juniors Rebecca Duffin (bow), Kaitlin Scher (stroke), and Meg Welsh (two), and sophomore Natalie Carlone (six).

The boat had won the Philadelphia City Championships by more than five-and-a-half seconds, but the presence of Thomas Jefferson at Stotesbury threw a different element into the mix. The Virginians were first and the Magic second in the qualifying head races on Friday, but when each team won its semifinal heat on Saturday morning, the Mount’s time was a bit faster (5:09.23 to 5:11.01).

“We figured once we got right next to them we’d be able to battle it out with them,” said MSJ coxswain Gina Perri, a senior headed for Boston College. The boats would not next to one another for very long.

None of the finalists got off to a truly clean start in the churning Schuylkill, but halfway through the race, as Perri related, “We just walked away and never looked back. Everyone in the boat had a different reason they wanted to win, and I told them to just keep thinking of that reason. I also reminded them that the Mount had never won the two-vee before, so we were making history.”

In addition to its eights, Mount St. Joe entered three fours at Stotesbury, although one of them, the senior four (Faith Zaki [cox], Ariana Harkins [stroke], Colleen McNamara, Cristina Bernal, Clare Kohler) was 22nd out of 47 entries in qualifying and did not advance in the regatta. Moving on were the junior four (sixth of 60) and the lightweight four (13th of 38).

The junior four (Sabrina Harkins [cox], Laura Powell [stroke], Nicole DiGiovanni, Margot Finnegan, Anne Zapalac) was third in its semifinal heat late on Friday afternoon, but with three semifinal races in this class, only the top two moved on to the championship race (Germantown Academy’s junior four crew of Sara Honickman [cox], Abby Korth [stroke], Taylor Black, Molly Murray, and Claire Dougherty went through to the finals and won the bronze medal). The Mount’s lightweight four rowers (Alex Vandergrift [cox], Alanna McCloy [stroke], Maeve Flynn, Sofia Quinodoz, Catie Travaline) also saw their run come to an end at this stage, since they finished fifth in their semifinal contest.

All five MSJ eights would go through to the finals, starting with the freshman crew of Carly Fredericks (cox), Katie Casebeer (stroke), Colette McNeela, Meredith Bracken, Steph Henrich, Christina Hamilton, Anna DelRicci, Lindsey Nemshick, and Meaghan Bresnahan. They qualified fourth of 36 ninth-grade vessels, then won their semifinal by two seconds over Maryland’s Walt Whitman High School. Radnor High won the final, and the Magic placed third behind runner-up Shaker High School (Albany, NY).

Out of 42 junior eights at the regatta, Mount St. Joe (Nicole Weinrich [cox], Johanna Duff [stroke], Molly Southwell, Lauren Gresko, Vicki Babson, Blaire Kelly, Colleen Delaney, Emma Brown, Meaghan Scher) qualified second, and went on to win one of three semifinal heats. Florida’s Winter Park High School, which did not enter a varsity boat and reputedly loaded its junior eight with some members of its V-8 crew, posted the fastest semifinal time by six seconds.

The Sunshine State squad won the final in 5:14.30, about three seconds ahead of the Mount’s regular-season rival Mainland (5:17.29), which went ahead of the Magic (5:19.58) alongside Peter’s Island.

Earlier this spring, the aura of invincibility that the Mount lightweight eight projected in past years faded a bit when Holy Spirit beat the Magic in the last race of the Manny Flick series and then finished a close second to the Mounties at the City Championships on May 4. Last weekend, Mount St. Joe was the faster qualifier by four-and-a-half seconds, but as each of the rival boats won its semifinal heat, a minor crab slowed the Magic to 5:03.53, while Spirit won its section in 4:57.36.

In the final, the MSJ lights let Spirit (winning time - 5:31.95) take seats from them starting in the middle of the race, seeming to rely upon generating a late burst of speed they ultimately couldn’t muster. Ontario’s E.L Crossley (5:34.84) also slipped ahead of the locals (5:35.10) to win the silver medal.

Happily for Magic fans, the second eight brought an end to the Mount’s Bronze Age with its convincing gold-medal performance.

With one rower competing while in the throes of a stomach virus, the MSJ varsity eight had come in fourth at the City’s, but boat members reported they had a good two weeks of practice leading up to Stotesbury. There, the Mount was the fastest qualifier (among 37 entries), and the second-fastest semifinal winner, checking in at 5:06.72 while the other two heats were won by Spirit (5:05.18) and defending Stotesbury champion Bishop Eustace of Pennsauken, NJ (5:09.75).

During the afternoon leading up to the 5:30 p.m. final, gusty headwinds picked up and died down and the river grew choppy. Physically larger crews tend to fare better in these conditions than smaller ones, but in this instance the top two places went to Eustace and the Mount, who have few Amazons on their rosters. Eustace rowed a strong race, leaving the field in the middle of the course and not dropping much below sprint speed after that.

Magic coxswain Devon Stewart, a Harvard-bound senior, reported, “There were waves coming into our boat and we were one of the lighter crews, but I think we handled the conditions about the best that we could.”

Six-seat rower Meg Kehan, who’ll join Stewart at Harvard next fall, pointed out, “Eustace says they’re a small boat, but I think we’re lighter than they are, and this was about the strongest headwind I’ve ever rowed in.”

Eustace won in 5:14.62, while Mount St. Joe (5:19.34) took silver by fighting off a finishing sprint by Spirit (5:20.89).

“After the race,” Kehan related, “everyone said they felt like they were having an out-of-body experience during the sprint. I didn’t know what Spirit was doing; I was just listening to Devon.”

The only other upperclassmen in the Mount V-8 are Megan Schluckebier (bow) and Mer Weber (seven seat). Junior Mary Maginnis (stroke) and sophomores Mary Duff (five), Katy Gregor (four), Laura Pospisil (two), and Chierika Ukogu (three) will all be back next year.