The Vineland High School boys varsity-four crew is already the program's most successful boat ever, and has one last chance this weekend to add to its stature.
The Vineland varsity four and several other leading area high school crews will compete at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta today and Saturday on the Cooper River in Camden County.
The start time is 8 a.m. both days. The SRAA, commonly called "the Nationals," is the last event of the high school crew season.
"We're definitely looking forward to the weekend," said senior Ian Fay, 18, the bow of the crew. "We're shooting to make a final."
The Fighting Clan varsity four won by more than five seconds on May 12 at the Atlantic County High School Rowing Championships on Lake Lenape.
It was the program's first Atlantic County championship in a major category.
The other members of the Vineland crew are stroke Kyle Leimeister, Michael Bowen, Josh Marcacci and coxswain Siani Sanchez.
Last weekend, the Fighting Clan became the only semifinalist from Atlantic, Cape May or Cumberland counties in that division at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia. The boat finished fifth in its semifinal heat in 5 minutes, 14.45 seconds and failed to advance. Boys varsity fours had 54 boats.
"We put them together after winter training, and they're a work in progress," said Vineland boys crew coach Joe LaRosa.
"Ian and Kyle had impressive erg scores in the fall. Bowen went back and forth from the varsity four and the lightweight four for a while, but he seemed to fit in pretty well with the varsity. Siani came to us from the girls team, where she was a rower last year. Kyle's only a sophomore, so we gave him a few races before we put him in the stroke seat."
Sanchez, an 18-year-old senior, rowed with the Vineland girls varsity- and junior-four crews in 2012.
"I wanted to try something new this year since I'm a senior," said Sanchez. "It turned out that I really loved being a coxswain. It's a whole new level. It makes me love crew even more.
“The county race was really exciting because it was my first win. I tell the crew to back each other up, and row as a team.”
Fay and Leimeister were part of an undefeated Vineland boys novice-eight boat last year. Novice boats have a limited season that ends at the Atlantic County meet.
“I feel honored to be part of our varsity four after being a novice last year,” said Leimeister, 15. “We’re mentally and physically prepared. Practices went well this week, and we worked on technique.”
LaRosa had only 14 returnees when he took over in 2011, and now has a team of 35.
“There’s been a huge improvement,” LaRosa said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun. If you want to be successful and take the next step, it takes a lot of kids. ... We’ve had a big team effort and now there’s an expectation. If we don’t do well, some guys are upset.”
The Holy Spirit girls lightweight eight and the Ocean City boys freshman eight were the two area winners last week at the Stotesbury Cup. The Spartans, in a field of 13 at Nationals, won’t begin until Saturday’s semifinals. Boys freshman eights has 25 crews.
Holy Spirit won the girls lightweight-eight title at Nationals in 2012, and the St. Augustine Prep boys junior eight also won.
The 29-boat, girls varsity-eight division has Holy Spirit, Absegami and Atlantic City. The boys varsity-eight field has 33 boats, including St. Augustine Prep, Absegami, Holy Spirit and Atlantic City.
The Mainland Regional girls junior eight finished a surprising second at Stotesbury, less than three seconds behind Montclair. The Mustangs’ crew consists of bow Megan Dorner, Kaitlyn Mullin, Megan Stafford, Mindy Parsons, Jenna Rosado, Stephanie Petrova, Bridget Keough, stroke Julia Byrnes and coxswain Erin McDonnell. The crew was third in the Atlantic County race.
Mainland girls coach Jeff Garbutt pointed out that Stafford and Parsons are freshmen, and Keough, a junior, is a novice rower. Dorner, Parsons, Stafford and Byrnes also play basketball, and Mullin and Keough are swimmers.
“The new girls picked up the sport quickly due to their athleticism,” Garbutt said. “They’re peaking at the right time.”
The Mainland girls varsity four was less than two seconds behind winner E.L. Crossley last week.
Other contending girls boats include the Holy Spirit freshman eight and junior eight, the Egg Harbor Township junior four, the Oakcrest junior eight and the Absegami second eight.
Boys crews to watch are the St. Augustine freshman eight and lightweight eight, the Mainland freshman eight, the Oakcrest junior four, and the Holy Spirit junior eight.
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