Other area teams made progress, but the St.. Augustine Prep boys varsity eight continued to dominate crew in South Jersey this spring. The Prep boat suffered no upsets in the area this season, despite strong competition from other Atlantic County crews.
That's an especially good result, considering that only two full-time members of the boat returned from the previous year.
The St. Augustine varsity eight combined with a powerful junior eight and other boats to make the Hermits The Press Boys Crew Team of the Year.
"It feels great (to be ranked first)," said St. Augustine coach Ray D'Amico. "We had a great season. It started with the support of great parents, and the kids feed on that. The support of the administration was tremendous. Everybody was on the same page."
The Hermits' varsity eight won at the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships on April 28 in Camden, giving the St. Augustine big boat its fifth state title in a row. The Prep crew was first at the Atlantic County Championships on May 13 by more than five seconds.
The St. Augustine varsity eight crew members at the end of the season were stroke Alex Dillon, Lee Wetty, Shane Dickson, Dan Palombo, Brandon Hesser, Zack Seither, Alastair Watson, bow Dan Capone and coxswain Brett Barry. Dan Stinson and John Ruskey were also in the boat during the season.
"Everything starts with the varsity eight in our program," D'Amico said. "We take a lot of pride in it, and every kid in our program wants to be in that boat. Our varsity eight was always in the race, and we were in a lot of close races. They were a fun group to coach, but serious on the water."
The Hermits boat also took third at the Philadelphia City Championships, 3.09 seconds behind winner St. Joseph's Prep. St. Augustine finished second in a semifinal heat in the Stotesbury Cup, beating St. Joseph's by 0.21 seconds. The Hermits took sixth in the boys varsity-eight final, the only New Jersey boat to make it.
At the Scholastic Rowing Association of America regatta a week later in Camden, St. Augustine made the petite final and took fifth. Again the Hermits were the best New Jersey varsity-eight crew.
Coxswain Barry was in the lightweight eight in 2011, and four others came from last year's junior eight.
"Our crew was not real used to rowing together at first. It was pretty much a brand new boat," said Barry, a 17-year-old junior from Smithville. "Everything was much faster in the varsity eight, and I had to learn more techniques and develop myself as a coxswain. We came together as a team."
Hesser, 18, will row at Marist College (N.Y.) next year on a partial scholarship that's both athletic and academic.
"We had a really good season, and I was surprised to be in the varsity eight," said Hesser, who's from Mays Landing. "There were a lot of guys competing to be in it, but I worked really hard. It was fantastic. Winning at (the Garden State and Atlantic County meets) had a lot more meaning to me than the other years."
Dillon will row at Boston University, while Palombo will compete for Drexel University and Hermits lightweight Steve Pennington will row for Saint Joseph's University.
The St. Augustine junior eight won at Nationals, beating St. Joseph's Prep on the last stroke. The Hermits were stroke Matt Mohnack, John Livingstone, Ryan Gerace, Stinson, Zach LaBarth, Brian Tindall, Bill Mayer, bow James Boney and coxswain Bill Reeves.
"The junior eight's win capped the whole season," D'Amico said. "(Assistant coach) Joe Maguire did an unbelievable job with them."
Coach of the Year
Brad Cress is The Press Coach of the Year after leading the Oakcrest boys team to its best season in the nine-year history of the program.
The Falcons ran a varsity eight for the first time this season, and won on consecutive days at Lake Lenape in Mays Landing and in Philadelphia early in the season. The varsity eight and lightweight eight were both third at the Garden State regatta, qualiying for Nationals. The varsity eight made it to a repechage heat at Nationals.
"Wow, what an honor," Cress said. "I'm a little blown away by it. The year was exciting because of all the work and effort the guys put in. It was exciting to get a (varsity-eight) medal at States and to get into the second day at Nationals."
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