Absegami High School has the top public school boys varsity-eight crew in the South Jersey-Philadelphia region so far this season.

The Braves' leading boat has led the team to a No. 2 ranking in The Press Elite 11.

There are still a few boats left for Absegami to beat, mainly St. Joseph's Prep, of Philadelphia, and La Salle College High School, of Wyndmoor, Pa., and St. Augustine Prep from Atlantic County.

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"We're chasing the saints," Absegami boys crew coach Jack McCabe said. "We're trying to get the boys to peak by the end of the year. They're great kids, and they're working harder than any crew I've ever had."

The leading boats will all meet again Sunday at the Philadelphia City Rowing Championships on the Schuylkill River. Head races (time trials) will begin at 8 a.m., and finals in 48 categories begin at 12:49 p.m.

Absegami was in the fastest of two boys varsity-eight heats and finished fourth behind St. Joseph's Prep, La Salle and St. Augustine, respectively, at the final Flick-Horvat Series regatta on April 21 in Philadelphia. Last Saturday, the Braves were second to St. Augustine by just under six seconds at the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championship on the Cooper River in Camden. The Prep won in 4 minutes, 30.28 seconds.

"We're getting closer every week, and we hope to be there at the Stotesbury Cup (in Philadelphia on May 17-18) and the Nationals (May 24-25 on the Cooper River) and run with St. Augustine and the other great programs," McCabe said. "It's not frustrating. We're happy to see the chase. Our kids are doing their best and having a great time."

The Absegami varsity eight-crew consists of stroke Zeeshawn Ali, Eric Ewell, Kyle Hershman, Spencer Agli, Patrick McColgan, Michael Bird, Franco Huynh, bow Matt Deibert and coxswain Shiv Patel. Ali, Ewell, Agli, McColgan, Bird, Huynh and Deibert are seniors and the others are juniors.

Ali is in his third year in the varsity eight. He said that much of the crew's chemistry started when five of the seniors were members of the freshman eight in 2010.

"We talked a little after (this) season started and said we can go somewhere," said Ali, an 18-year-old Galloway Township resident. "We stepped it up in the middle of the season. We're one of the best (public school crews) on the East Coast, and we want to get to the finals (of the City Championships) and show the private schools who we are."

Ali is being recruited by NCAA Division I Drexel University (Pa.) and Division III Washington College (Md.).

Red socks for Boston

The Absegami boys and girls crew teams will wear red socks Sunday in a show of support for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The idea originated with the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia, which also will be held Sunday. Many of the runners are expected to wear red socks.

"The students, coaches and members of the Parent Association will be wearing red socks to show their support for the victims and the entire extended crew family in the Boston area," said Ron Irvin, president of the Absegami Crew Parent Association in an email on Thursday.

Some other area crews may pick up on the idea and wear red socks, too.

Absegami's small fleet

The Absegami boys program has only three boats, the others being a junior eight and a second eight.

"It's been a tough year because we didn't get a large group of freshmen come out," McCabe said. "But I'm really proud of our varsity eight. We're ranked really high and we have great support from the school. We're hoping to get more freshmen out next year, but it takes a lot of dedication."

The Braves' junior eight, which includes three freshmen, won its 2,000-meter flight in 6:48.15 at the Cooper Cup last Sunday. The crew consisted of stroke Matt Graham, Chris Piettro, Rami Awad, Sovan Ali, Doyle Pollock, Evan D'Ambrosio, Samran Ali, bow Joey Hawn and coxswain Ryan Kershenblatt.

Contenders in Philly

The Holy Spirit girls varsity eight and the St. Augustine Prep boys varsity should be among the leading crews at the Philadelphia City Championships but will have tough competition.

The Absegami crews were both sixth in varsity eights at the event last year. The Atlantic City boys and girls varsity eights have been competitive, and the Holy Spirit boys crew could make a final.

The Holy Spirit girls lightweight- and second-eight crews each won at the City Championships last year, as did the Mainland Regional girls varsity four and Egg Harbor Township girls lightweight four. All four crews, with at least slightly different lineups this year, could win again.

Among the other crews to watch: the St. Augustine lightweight eight and second eight, the Oakcrest girls junior eight, the Holy Spirit boys junior eight and the Mainland girls lightweight four.

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