mainland girls crew

Mainland Regional High school girls crew coach Jeff Garbut helps give a varsity-eight boat a push away from the dock during practice Friday on the back bays in Ventnor Heights. The Mustangs begin their season today at the Lake Lenape Sprints in Mays Landing.

Staff photo Ben Fogletto

Mainland Regional High School’s Kennedy Stafford, Morgan Rann, Amanda Ryan and Stacey Price rowed for a nearly undefeated girls varsity-four crew last year.

All four rowers are back for the Mustangs this spring.

With lineups still undecided this early in the season, Mainland coach Jeff Garbutt isn’t sure if Stafford, Rann, Ryan and Price will return as a strong varsity four or as part of a varsity eight.

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All are seniors except Price, who is a junior.

“We switch from rowing in fours and eights every day,” Garbutt said. “This weekend (at Lake Lenape today and in Philadelphia on Sunday), those four will be rowing in a varsity eight. We have a lot of talented young rowers, and we’ll have to see how they progress.”

The Mainland varsity four was unbeaten last year until finishing second to Merion Mercy Academy (Pa.) at the Stotesbury Cup in Philadelphia (by 1.23 seconds) and at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta on the Cooper River in Camden (by 2.48 seconds).

The Merion Mercy crew has since graduated two rowers and a coxswain.

Stafford, Rann, Ryan and Price rowed last spring with senior coxswain Kelsey Franks.

“They were a joy to coach,” Garbutt said. “We do a lot of switching early in the season, and we put them together. The four rowers were all underclassmen and they could have rowed in a junior four, but I like to enter my boats up a division. I put them in a varsity-four race and they won, and it went from there.”

Franks is now part of the Temple University program, and Garbutt says she’s a candidate to be the varsity-eight coxswain as a freshman.

“Kelsey was a great leader, and she was the key to the crew jelling,” Garbutt said. “She’ll be missed.”

Stafford, the Mustangs’ stroke, has committed to attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and will receive a full athletic scholarship. The ODU women’s crew team is coached by Dan Garbutt, Jeff’s brother. Ryan will receive a partial athletic and academic scholarship to La Salle University. Rann, who is being recruited by NCAA Division I programs, could make her decision soon.

The Mustangs’ varsity four or eight coxswain this year could be senior Morgan Gerety. She was the coxswain of the 2012 Mainland junior eight, a Press All-Star boat.

The 2012 varsity four won at the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships, the Philadelphia City Championships and the Atlantic County High School Rowing Championships.

“We pushed ourselves last year and became a really strong boat,” said Stafford, a 17-year-old Northfield resident. “We got really close. We have unfinished business this year, and we want to have a second chance. We hope to be together and finish what we left. I know we can do it.”

Ryan was the Mainland field hockey goalie for three years and says the pressure of the two sports is similar.

“In field hockey, the goalie is the last line of defense, and in crew everyone is relying on you to pull your hardest,” said Ryan, an 18-year-old Somers Point resident. “In field hockey, you run a lot, so that kept me in good shape.

Stafford took a college visit to Temple, and an unofficial visit to Saint Joseph’s, before choosing ODU.

“Old Dominion really stuck out to me,” Stafford said. “The coach was a lot like my coach. The team was really friendly, and it was a great environment. It should be a great four years. A lot of the girls on the team are from South Jersey.”

Ryan, who also visited St. Joseph’s and Temple, will be coached at La Salle by Larry Connell, a Holy Spirit High School graduate.

“I really liked the atmosphere at La Salle, and (assistant) coach (Mike) Malloy was very nice and welcoming,” said Ryan. “I also went to a couple classes and liked that they were smaller.”

Jeff Garbutt has gone with the varsity fours rather than varsity eights in the past to give his top rowers their best chance for success. The Mustangs have 16 varsity rowers this year, still not a lot.

“I prefer a four, but either one (is OK),” Ryan said. “We’re very excited about the year. We want to do like last year, only do one better. Winning Stotesbury and the Nationals is our ultimate goal.”

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