June 3, 2010

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Mount varsity and lightweights win at Scholastic Nationals

Mount St. Joseph Academy’s lightweight eight (foreground) and varsity eight (background) won gold medals at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Regatta last weekend. The crews routinely square off in practice, but rarely appear in the same race. They are seen here together in the fifth installment of Philadelphia’s Manny Flick series on April 18, when the lightweights competed in the varsity category.

At the Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Regatta last weekend, Mount St. Joseph Academy saw its most decorated class of rowers add to its gold medal collection, while the Magic’s flagship crew accomplished something its forebears had not achieved since 2006.

In Saratoga Springs, N.Y. the Mount lightweight eight won in Saturday’s finals by a jaw-dropping 10 seconds, repeating as national champions and claiming the Mount’s sixth SRAA gold medal in this category. The varsity eight also made off with a golden doubloon, becoming the first Magic V-8 since 2006 to win both the Stotesbury Cup Regatta and the SRAA’s.

Ariana Harkins, the senior stroke for the lightweights, recalled, “I remember saying to Maggie [Rush, the coxswain] at the finish that I don’t even know what goes on in our boat, but it’s just so strong. The nine of us just work so well together.”

Even though the varsity boat did not have its final line-up set until midway through the spring season, senior six-seat Katy Gregor said “We were unified and we made everything click.”

Their final race included some familiar rivals and some unknown foes, and as Gregor explained “We didn’t know what to expect, so in the end we just focused on ourselves and what we were capable of.”

Two other Mount St. Joe boats made the SRAA finals; the junior eight came in fourth, and the second varsity eight finished sixth. For the seven MSJ crews in attendance, the regatta began with an opening round of heats on Friday. In most events, the top three in each heat would move on to the semifinals on Saturday morning, with the finals staged in the afternoon.

Two of the Mount entries were unable to advance out of the opening round. The junior four (Alex Kist-cox, Kate Jones-stroke, Katelyn Keane, Kaitlin Kiernan, Carly Scullin) placed fourth in the second of five heats in its category, finishing less than half-a-second behind the third-place boat. The Magic’s under-aged senior four, with sophomores Rebecca McCool (stroke), Leah McGlynn, Kate Toll, and Maureen Flynn and senior cox Amanda Stillwell, placed fifth in the fourth of six heats.

The Mount freshman eight (Mary Raggazino-cox, Kait Loftus-stroke, Kate Mirabella, Lauren Seminack, Lauren Hamilton, Kiera McCloy, Emily Ruddy, Bobbie Sutton and Rachel Heller) survived the heats, but not the semifinals. The rookies placed second in their heat race, then finished fourth in a semifinal won by the eventual gold medalist, Saratoga High.

At Stotesbury two weeks earlier, the Mount second varsity eight (Anora Collier-cox, Natalie Carlone-stroke, Maura Dougherty, Lauren Gresko, Colleen Delaney, Cathleen Keene, Rebecca Duffin, Catie Travaline, Laura Powell) had won the gold medal by a tenth of a second over Virginia’s T.C. Williams. The “Two-Vee” reached the SRAA finals last weekend, but this time there would be no miracle finish for the crew, which consisted of eight seniors and one sophomore, Keene.

The Magic won their opening race with the best overall time of 5:14.519, a whisker faster than T.C. Williams’ winning mark of 5:14.694 in a different heat. They raced head-to-head in the semifinals, with Mount St. Joe winning in 5:41.122 and Williams third in 5:41.877. In the finals, the Virginians did not let the gold get away from them this time. They reached the top tier on the podium in 5:50.323, edging out Illinois power New Trier (5:50.616). The Magic came in sixth (5:56.018), behind Holy Spirit (N.J.), Winter Park (Fla.), and Ocean City (N.J.).

Another Stotesbury gold medalist for the Mount, the junior eight (Erin McElroy-cox, Paige Flynn-stroke, Molly Tenzinger, Katie McCormick, Katie O’Connell, Emily Carbone, Anna DelRicci, Steph Henrich, Meg O’Brien) won the third of four heats at Saratoga with the fourth-fastest time overall, and then placed third in their semifinal race.

The home girls from Saratoga High won the other semifinal and then struck gold in the finals (5:25.449), shading runner-up James Madison (Va.) by just over one second. St. Francis Secondary School (Ont.) won the bronze medal, finishing four seconds ahead of the Mount (5:32.459).

Back in 2002, a Mount lightweight eight reached the SRAA finals for the first time, finishing fifth. Since then, MSJ light eights have snapped up six gold medals and two silvers at the national regatta.

Late in the 2010 campaign, Holy Spirit (whose lightweights won the 2008 SRAA’s) emerged as a serious challenger to the Mount. The Spartans made a serious run at the Magic in the Stotesbury final before the Mounties sprinted and won by five-and-a-half seconds.

The roster for the Mount boat lists Harkins along with fellow seniors Sam Brecht (seven seat) and Alanna McCloy (five), juniors Meg Bresnahan (two), Katie Casebeer (four), Colette McNeela (bow) and Maggie Rush (cox), and sophomores Rose Ehrlich (six) and Julie McGlynn (three).

In the three heat races at SRAA’s, the Magic won the first section and put up the best time in the category (5:09.980), while Spirit took the following heat and posted the second-fastest figure (5:12.893). Predictably, these crews won the two semifinals, the Magic topping Ohio’s Upper Arlington by eight seconds, and the Spartans five ticks ahead of Winter Park. The winning margin in the final would be greater still.

“Actually, we were trying to conserve energy in the early races,” revealed MSJ varsity coach Mike McKenna. “They probably went hard two-thirds of the race and then they brought the stroke rate down. For their final, there was a pretty strong headwind, so that makes it a longer race and sometimes the gaps [between boats] can grow larger.”

The Mounties had a sound race-plan for the finals, and according to Brecht, “It was really well-executed. We had a great start and then we built up the lead around 750 [meters, the halfway point]. That’s when we usually do a move for each pair in the boat.”

“We expected Spirit to give us a hard time,” Harkins remarked, “so I think we rowed the whole time like they were right next to us.”

After winning the race in 5:40.072 over the Spartans (5:50.896) and Winter Park (5:55.097), the MSJ lightweights were receiving their medals at the awards dock as the varsity eight final was coming down the course.

“We’ve gotten really close to the varsity this season,” noted Brecht. “We go at each other hard in practice, but after the heat of the moment we know that it will make us both stronger. To be able to share these victories with them means a lot to us, so when we saw them win I think more girls in our boat were crying than when we won our race.”

The Mount’s 2010 varsity eight contains six seniors; Gregor, Vicky Babson (stroke), Mary Duff (three), Sarah Jordan (cox), Laura Pospisil (four), and Chierika Ukogu (seven). Filling out the crew are junior Meredith Bracken (bow) and sophomores Darian DiCianno (five) and Dana Lerro (two).

The underclassmen easily meshed with the seniors according to DiCianno, who related, “They helped us to prepare mentally and physically. They’d always go through what we wanted to do in a race beforehand, and they told us their experiences from the big races they’d been in.”

This spring the Magic encountered some stiff challenges from schools right in the Philadelphia area. Radnor High was a close runner-up to the Mount at the Philadelphia City Championships on May 2, and Merion Mercy Academy earned the silver medal at Stotesbury, ending up little more than one second behind the Magic. All three crews would medal at Saratoga.

In the five heat races, the top time of 5:01.627 belonged to the defending champions, New Trier, and next came Mount St. Joe (5:02.316), which won its heat by nearly five seconds over McLean (Va.).

There were three semifinal races for the V-8’s and this left little margin for error, since only the top two in each contest would move on.

Both running in the 5:22 range, New Trier and Radnor won the second and third semifinals, respectively, while in the first race, the Mounties (5:19.898) enjoyed a seven-second margin over runner-up Holy Spirit.

“They raced well and they were pretty comfortable going into the final,” Coach McKenna said, “but they were somewhat preoccupied with New Trier. They actually moved away from New Trier right off the start, and then they were almost surprised by the two local teams they knew so well.”

Due to their earlier success, the Magic were racing in one of the middle lanes, lane three, while Radnor was in lane two, closer to the docks.

“Near the end, I could see where they were out of the corner of my eye,” DiCianno said. “You’re in a lot of pain at that point in a race, but when you’re in the lead you’re so excited it helps you overcome that.”

“Going into the sprint we knew we were going to hold them off,” Gregor recalled. “Our [stroke] rate got a little high in the middle, but we were able to keep up the power throughout the race.”

Mount St. Joe won in 5:09.503, a little under two seconds ahead of Radnor (5:11.399), who nipped Merion (5:12.311) for the silver medal. In fourth through sixth were New Trier (5:14.109), Winter Park (5:22.419), and Holy Spirit (5:25.931).




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