A strong junior eight boat and a competitive lightweight four have led the Oakcrest High School girls crew team to a breakout season this spring. Oakcrest is ranked sixth in The Press Elite 11.
It's not easy to get noticed in Atlantic County girls crew, with a crowded field of contenders like Holy Spirit, Absegami, Egg Harbor Township, Mainland Regional and Atlantic City. But the Oakcrest boats have been winning races, unlike last year when the victories were scarce.
The Falcons girls junior eight, lightweight four and three other team boats get their biggest test of the season so far on Saturday - at the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championship on the Cooper River in Camden.
The all-day regatta, which starts at 9 a.m., features the best crews from around the state in 38 high school divisions. The event is commonly called, "states."
"Our goal leading into states is to come home with some hardware, ideally of the right color (gold)," said Oakcrest coach Justin Weiner, who's in his second year.
"Mainly we want them to put forth an effort their teammates can be proud of, and as long as they do that nobody can be disappointed."
The Oakcrest junior eight scored an impressive win last Sunday, beating 18 other crews in a head race at the fifth Manny Flick-Horvat Series regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The Falcons finished the 1,500-meter race in 4 minutes, 52.54 seconds, 2.33 seconds faster than second-place Montclair High School.
A head race is a time trial that is sometimes run as a final where boats take off at intervals and row the race course alone. That way a category with several entries can be run efficiently in less time.
The Oakcrest crew was stroke Jessica Lindsay, Brianna Knight, Michaela Allen, Victoria Thies, Alonna Bennett, Taylor Phy, Emily Cameron, bow Megan Guerrieri and coxswain Lindsey Prychka. The crew has five sophomores, and Guerrieri, Lindsay, Allen and Prychka are juniors.
"The girls who were freshmen last year have matured, and they brought their 'A' game to the (ergometer rowing machines) this year," Weiner said "They're hungry. The younger girls have really stepped up to the plate. They've pushed the older girls and created an excellent team dynamic from top to bottom."
The Oakcrest team has 33 girls. In addition, the Falcons will run a varsity four, novice eight and junior double on Saturday. Oakcrest will not have a girls varsity eight.
Crews can enter more than one race at the Lake Lenape Sprints in Mays Landing, and the Falcons junior eight won twice there on April 6. The crew won its category, plus a two-boat varsity-eight race near the end of the regatta.
"It feels good to do well," said Prychka, 17, of Mays Landing. "We're determined, especially since we're such a young crew. Our whole team is improved this year, and I feel it's because it's from being like a family. We always have each other's back and encourage each other."
The Oakcrest girls lightweight four finished second in its flight to Egg Harbor Township in Philadelphia last Sunday. But the Falcons boat has won several races this spring.
The Oakcrest crew, all seniors, is stroke Connie Capone, Nicole Littlefield, Morgan Osborn, bow Danielle LaPergola, and coxswain Rebecca Adamo.
Capone is perhaps more well known as The 2012 Press Girls Tennis Player of the Year. She won the Cape-Atlantic League individual singles title this past fall.
LaPergola is finishing up a four-year career as a three-sport athlete, competing in field hockey, swimming and crew each year.
"A lot of us (in the lightweight four) rowed together as sophomores in the junior eight," LaPergola said. "Now we're back together, and it's awesome. We're having a great time. This is my first year in a four (boat). Everything's magnified. Everyone needs to be perfect on every stroke."
LaPergola thinks her three sports all work together.
"Field hockey has a lot of running to get you in shape, and swimming gives you the best endurance of your life," LaPergola said. "That gets you ready for crew."
Contact Guy Gargan:
Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championship
When: 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Cooper River, Camden