With COVID-19 restrictions gradually being reduced, last weekend's 2021 Stotesbury Cup Regatta had an air of normalcy about it. For the Mount St. Joseph Academy crew, that meant winning …
With COVID-19 restrictions gradually being reduced, last weekend's 2021 Stotesbury Cup Regatta had an air of normalcy about it. For the Mount St. Joseph Academy crew, that meant winning medals.
Six of the eight crews the Magic entered had raced all spring, while two other boats were put together for "Stotes" specifically to get more athletes involved. One of the two new crews did not advance past the qualifying stage, while the lightweight eight was in a very small overall field and finished fourth.
The six well-established crews all attained the finals easily, and gold medals were won by the senior (varsity) eight, the junior (JV) eight, and the freshman eight. The second eight, lightweight four, and junior four all earned silver medals.
The success of the senior eight (also a gold medalist at the City Championships in early May) provides an example of the perseverance of young athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They're a diverse group that gets along very well," Mount varsity crews coach Mike McKenna said of this crew made up of a senior coxswain and four seniors, two juniors, and two sophomores at the oars. "Essentially you have sophomores who hadn't raced, and juniors who'd only rowed in freshman and novice events two years ago. They had no spring or fall season in 2020, so they had to grow up pretty quickly."
A few COVID quarantines kept some MSJ athletes out of action during the regular-season Manny Flick races, but McKenna finally had the line-up he wanted available for the City Championships on May 2. They won the final convincingly, and then took the Stotesbury gold by almost seven seconds.
"It's a group of personalities kept together by a low-key understated cox who stays cool under pressure," McKenna said in reference to senior Ella Valencia, who will continue on to Penn.
During the spring season in 2019 she wasn't in an eight, but directed the Mount's JV four. McKenna said she improved greatly during the 2019 fall campaign prior to the cancellation of the 2020 spring season.
"That's when she really got on my radar," McKenna related. "If you see her outside of a crew setting, you wouldn't think she could do it, but when she gets in her element, it's 'command and control'."
The 2020 Stotesbury began with time trials that started late in the morning on Friday. In the more thinly-populated categories, the six boats with the fastest times went directly into the final round of racing on Saturday afternoon, while in events with more entries the top 12 advanced to semifinal races held on Saturday morning.
One of the differences from a normal Stotesbury year was the lack of a second launching dock for trailered boats at the "three angels" meadow downstream of the race course. This made for quite a crowd of long boat trailers and towing vehicles up by the Canoe Club, where the Mount normally parks.
Three Mount boats swept into the semifinals by putting up the fastest time in Friday's trials. The varsity eight (or "senior" eight in Stotesbury-speak) featured a familiar line-up (Ella Valencia - cox, Maggie Newell - stroke, Julia Geib, Hannah Lemanowicz, Cate Van Stone, Sarah Powell, Alexa Konowal, Kelly Cleary, and Sydney McKernan) and won its session by five seconds over a familiar rival this season, Moorestown (N.J.) High School. The next two slots were occupied by schools from the Washington D.C. area.
The Magic's JV (Junior) eight ((Annmarie Wallis - cox, Grace McDonough - stroke, Caitlin O'Reilly, Margaret Horgan, Leah Manzo-McCottry, Francesca Fede, Kate Kelly, Kathryn Sponseller, Grace Hartzell), a dominant crew in this area, looked to have some out-of-state competition. The Mount won its trials, but Nardin Academy of Buffalo, N.Y. was just a second-and-a-half behind.
The Magic's freshman eight line-up had a few changes, since the absence of novice-class events at Stotesbury created some new options. The tweaked crew (Angelina Baker - cox, Anna Ledwith - stroke, Molly Maher, Kari Prosperi, Caroline Johnson, Julia Fede, Ellie Fazio, Grace Kyle, Sabrina Borzi) posted the top trials time, four-and-a-half seconds ahead of Walt Whitman High School (Bethesda, MD).
To give other ninth-graders a chance to participate at Stotesbury, the ones who could make weight constituted most of the crew of a newly-formed lightweight eight. This boat used to be a staple of the MSJ fleet, but this year older lightweights raced in a four.
The young eight (Sarah Mark - cox, Anna Simola - stroke, Ella Vangen, Noelle O'Brien, Julia Burns, Elizabeth Dolich, Norah McGlynn, Lola Figueroa-Clark, Grace Fullmer) found itself in a category with just four entries overall, so a third-place finish was fine for a trip to the finals (the results were used to determine lane assignments on the course).
In the lightweight four, Merion Mercy conjured up a boat that blew away the rest of the field in trials, but the Mount (Giovanna Consiglio - cox, Evelyn McGreevey - stroke, Christina Kelly, Maeve Carmody, Sonia Marhefka) came in second to go straight through to the six-crew final with no semifinal round.
The Magic's JV (junior) four (Chloe Van de Meulebroecke - cox, Sarah Burns (stroke), Nina Rowello, Brianna Montgomery, Aoife Meacle) was second in trials, with a time just a second behind that of North Jersey's Blair Academy.
The second eight for Mount St. Joe (Emilie Scibelli - cox, Izzy McCafferty - stroke, Olivia Guza, Claire Hanycz, Caroline Kyle, Cassie Koestler, Ruby French, Kaylee Dougherty, Sarah Gorovitz) also came in second, with a 10-second gap separating it from the leader from Walt Whitman. While the JV four had moved into a semifinal round, the second eight advanced straight to the finals.
The freshman eight was back in action at nine o'clock on Saturday morning. They won their race, and their time was two seconds faster than Whitman's winning time in the second semifinal. In the junior four semifinals, time-trial leader Blair won the first heat, but this time the Mount's time was faster as the Magic won the second section.
The two junior eight semifinals were won by the Mount and Nardin, with the Magic crew's time faster by four seconds. The strong senior eight was five seconds faster than any of its competitors; Mount St. Joe won the first semi by six-and-a-half seconds, Moorestown took the second race.
That afternoon, the fourth event in the finals was the girls' freshman eight. There would be no finishing sprint since the Magic took control well before that. Rowing with authority, they won the gold medal by seven seconds over Winter Park (Fla.) High School, with bronze medalist Walt Whitman another second behind.
Montclair (N.J.) High School, third in the junior four time trials, had a strong row in the medal race, taking the gold by three seconds over the silver medalists from the Mount. Blair, preeminent in the time trials, slipped to third here.
The Mount junior eight continued to increase its times over Buffalo's Nardin when the crews raced for a third time in the finals. In head-to-head competition, the winning margin for the determined Magic grew to almost six seconds, while Nardin was the silver medalist and after another seven seconds Wilson High (Washington D.C.) wandered across the line to collect the bronze medal.
The light eight from MSJ, the boat of young rowers put together just for this weekend, came in fourth in a four-boat final in the middle of the afternoon.
Merion Mercy's lightweight four continued to perform well in the finals, winning a race in which five seconds separated each of the medalists. Mount St. Joe won the silver ahead of Oakcrest (N.J.) High School.
In the second eight, Maryland's Walt Whitman clearly took command of the final to win by seven-and-a-half seconds, but there was a very close race for the silver. At the line, the Mount crew gutted it out to take second place by 0.47 seconds over Moorestown, the boat that had beaten them at the Philadelphia City Championships two weeks earlier.
Now there was a gap of a little over an hour before the last Mount finalists would come down the course. Flocks of other Mounties migrated down to the area of the finish line, and while the grandstand had been closed to spectators earlier, the yellow tape had now disappeared.
The Mount senior eight had earned its position in lane three in the middle of the course, with Merion Mercy just to the inside in lane two and Moorestown in lane four. The Mount had a slim lead early on, but around the 500 meter mark the Magic boat seemed to jump. The Mounties took over.
McKenna noted that while occasionally it's necessary to respond to a move by a rival boat, a good crew focuses on its own race plan.
"There's no need to play defense in that game; it's all offense," he said. "I didn't think anybody had the horsepower to go with us. We had a good race pretty much from top to bottom."
Merion faded a bit as Whitman came up in lane one. Moorestown stayed with it farther from the river bank, but Mount St. Joseph was clearly in control. The Magic steamed across the line in 5:01.02, Moorestown claimed the silver medal in 5:07.86, and the bronze went to Walt Whitman in 5:10.23.