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Crew: Holy Spirit, St. Augustine Prep competing today at national regatta in Tennessee

The Holy Spirit High School girls lightweight eight dominated its division during the high school season, and this weekend the Spartans, all non-seniors, face an even greater challenge.

The USRowing Youth National Championships, which will be held today through Sunday in Oak Ridge, Tenn., bring together the top high school and rowing club crews in the nation. All the races are 2,000 meters, not the high school standard of 1,500.

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The Holy Spirit girls lightweight eight and the St. Augustine Prep boys varsity eight are the only area crews competing. Both boats helped their teams to the respective top rankings in The Press Elite 11s.

Preliminary heats will be held today. Holy Spirit will be in the women's lightweight youth-eight division, which will have four consecutive heats starting at 1:30 p.m. The Prep is in the men's youth-eight division, with four heats starting at 4:39 p.m.

The Spartans' crew was the area's most successful of the season in any division, winning the Philadelphia City and Atlantic County Championships, and the Stotesbury Cup and Scholastic Rowing Association of America regattas.

The nine members: bow Shannon La Sala, Nicole Maslowas, Katie Bainbridge, Tara Puhalski, Caroline Bradley, Tori Light, Cailin McCully, bow Danielle Peck, and coxswain Kiersten Stone. La Sala, Maslowas, Bainbridge, Light and Stone are juniors, and the rest are sophomores.

Holy Spirit girls assistant coach Rory Roberts is the lightweight-eight coach. He'll be with the team this weekend.

"Going 2,000 meters won't be a problem for them," Roberts said of his crew. "We've been training for (the Youth Nationals) all year; I just didn't tell them. I was hoping we could get to it."

The competition promises to be tougher than anything in the regular season because it's truly national, and because the rowing clubs can consist of the best rowers from several high schools.

"We're excited," said Stone, 17, of Brigantine. "We don't know what to expect because there are a lot of great crews that we haven't seen before. Our practices the last two weeks were harder, to prepare us."

The St. Augustine Prep boys varsity eight was New Jersey's best in crew's big division. The Hermits won at the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships and the Atlantic County Championships. The Prep crew took third at the Philadelphia City Championships, sixth in the Stotesbury Cup and fifth in the petite final at the SRAA.

"We're looking to get into one of the finals, A, B or C," St. Augustine coach Ray D'Amico said.

"We have a young crew and this will be great for our winter training to see how fast we are against the best crews in the country. It's an honor to compete there, and it will be great for recruiting."

The St. Augustine crew consists of stroke Alex Dillon, Lee Wetty, Shane Dickson, Dan Palombo, Brandon Hesser, Zach Seither, Alastair Watson, bow Dan Capone and coxswain Bretty Barry. Dillon, Wetty, Palombo and Hesser are seniors. Watson, Capone and Barry are juniors and Seither and Dickson sophomores.

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