Just having a season this year was a big victory for the Holy Spirit High School girls crew team.
Many more triumphs followed.
The Spartans' boathouse in Brigantine and some of the equipment and boats were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in late October. Much of the equipment had to be replaced, and a few of the boats were sent away for repairs.
But once the season began in March, Holy Spirit, the area's top power in girls crew, quickly showed its problems were past them.
The Holy Spirit varsity eight, with only one senior, combined with an undefeated Spartans lightweight eight and other boats to make Holy Spirit an easy choice as The Press Girls Crew Team of the Year.
"I think (the storm) really brought them together," Holy Spirit girls crew coach Joe Welsh said.
"They became like a family. We had some kids out of their houses at that time. Even the kids who lived offshore would go over to their friend's house (at the shore) and help them. They got the word out, and about 30 of them cleaned out the boathouse with us.
"Once we got the boats back (after repairs done in Camden) and the kids saw the boats were OK, they were primed and ready of go. I told them that with all they've been through, to just keep working. They responded well."
The Holy Spirit girls varsity eight had one of its best seasons in recent years, winning the first three of the five championship races.
The Spartans crew consisted of bow Michelle Smith, Danielle Larotonda, Tara Puhalski, Lauren Turner, Amanda Reale, Samantha Stoll, Christine Wojciechowicz, stroke Lauren Slattery and coxswain Claire McLenna. Turner is the only senior.
"They were a very young crew and we put them together last fall as an experiment," said Welsh. "They kept excelling and they had great chemistry. They worked hard and meshed once we got the combination together."
The Spartans varsity-eight boat won the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championship on the Cooper River in Camden County on April 27. Holy Spirit won the Philadelphia City Championships for the first time since 2004 on May 5. The Spartans captured the Atlantic County High School Rowing Championship by more than eight seconds on Lake Lenape in Mays Landing at week later.
Holy Spirit finished fourth out of 37 boats in its division at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia on May 18. The crew was fifth at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta on the Cooper River a week later.
Turner will row for the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma next year.
"I think we had an amazing season," said Turner, an 18-year-old Absecon resident. "The crew was so young and still developing. Most of the other crews had girls 6 (foot) 2 and 180 pounds, but we had a great work ethic. No one was ever slacking out. In sprints, you could feel the boat jump."
Slattery is one of five juniors, and the crew also had three sophomores.
"We definitely progressed well," said Slattery, a 17-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident. "We're definitely looking forward to next year. We'll work out in the summer and fall, and next year we'll come out even stronger."
The Holy Spirit girls lightweight eight won every race during the scholastic season for the second straight year, including all five championship races.
"They were extraordinary. They made coaching easy," Holy Spirit lightweight-eight coach Rory Roberts said. "Their success was clearly due to them. They were very self-motivated."
The Spartans crew included bow Danielle Peck, Sofia Iaconelli, Nicole Maslowas, Caroline Bradley, Victoria Light, Katie Bainbridge, Shannon LaSala, stroke Cailin McCully and coxswain Kiersten Stone.
"We had no problem with motivation after being undefeated last year," said McCully, a 17-year-old junior from Northfield who was part of the crew in 2012. "Coach (Roberts) kept asking us how we want to be remembered. We wanted to be remembered as one of the fastest boats ever at Holy Spirit.
"It was tough, knowing that everyone would try their hardest against us, but we were up to the challenge. We felt more confident this year."
LaSala, who is one of the crew's six seniors, was in the lightweight eight three years.
"We definitely improved on last year,"said LaSala, an 18-year-old EHT resident. "It was mostly the same girls, and we worked on technique. We were focused on getting to (the USRowing Youth Nationals in ) Tennessee."
The Holy Spirit crew placed fifth in the "A" (championship) final at the USRowing event in Oak Ridge, Tenn., on June 9, losing only to junior rowing clubs, which can get top rowers from several high schools.
LaSala will row for Old Dominion University next year, while Maslowas will compete for the University of Tampa. Iaconelli will row for LaSalle, Bainbridge will row for Michigan State, and Stone will compete for Nova Southeastern.
Five members of the second-eight boat will continue their rowing careers in college. They are Erin Coffman (Washington College), Melissa Clark (La Salle), Karli Libbey (La Salle), Nicole Kilar (San Diego State) and Sally Widmann (George Mason). Two other Holy Spirit rowers who will compete in college are Christine Betar (Saint Joseph's) and Rebecca Bross (Tampa).
Coaches of the Year
Welsh and Roberts have been selected as the Coaches of the Year for leading Holy Spirit to a banner year.
Welsh also received the honor last year.
"I think it's great (to share the honor with Roberts)," said Welsh. "I'm very proud of what he's done. He went to high school (Holy Spirit) and college (Temple) with my son (Joe), so I feel like he's a member of my family."
Roberts, a former coxswain, has been a Holy Spirit girls assistant for four years.
"It's an honor to be mentioned along with Joe," Roberts said. "He runs a tight ship and keeps everybody motivated. He's the reason I'm coaching."
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