New challengers keep emerging in New Jersey boys crew, but the St. Augustine Prep varsity eight again proved to be the state's fastest this spring.

The Hermits varsity eight had to partially rebuild due to graduations, but the Prep boat stayed ahead of its state rivals.

St. Augustine led The Press Elite 11 all season and finishes as The Press Boys Crew Team of the Year.

The Hermits varsity eight won the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championship for the sixth year in a row.

The crew also won the Atlantic County High School Rowing Championships by more than seven seconds.

The Hermits finished fifth at the Stotesbury Cup in Philadelphia, and won the petite (consolation) final at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta on the Cooper River in Camden County.

The St. Augustine varsity-eight crew consisted of stroke John Ruskey, Alastair Watson, Dan Capone, Shane Dickson, Zack Seither, Austin Neri, Zach LaBarth, bow Dan Stinson and coxswain Brett Barry. All are seniors except Seither, Dickson and LaBarth.

"They were fun to coach," St. Augustine coach Ray D'Amico said. "They gave a 12-month effort, with weight lifting, erg pieces and extra work, They were very consistent. They prepared themselves, with early morning workouts, and they rowed every practice piece like a final. They weren't one of our biggest or strongest crews (in Prep history), but they were one of the fastest."

Watson, Capone, Dickson, Seither and Barry were varsity-eight members at the end of last year, and Ruskey and Stinson spent some time in the boat in 2012.

"We were bigger last year, with good erg scores, but this year we were better boat-movers," said Watson, a 17-year-old Northfield resident. "We were technical rowers, and personally I think we were faster than last year."

The St. Augustine varsity eight started off the championship regattas with its sixth straight win in the Garden State event on the Cooper River on April 27. The Prep finished in 4 minutes, 30.28 seconds. Absegami was second in 4:36.23, with Moorestown third, Atlantic City fourth and Holy Spirit fifth.

"We knew we'd have a lot of competition going into the season because there's a lot of great programs with great coaches," said Barry, an 18-year-old Galloway Township resident. "We were really determined and worked hard. Last year's (senior) class was a good role model for us."

The Hermits finished second to St. Joseph's Prep at the Philadelphia City Championships on May 5, but only by 3.38 seconds.

"All our rowers stepped up and worked toward the goal," said Ruskey, an 18-year-old Stone Harbor resident. "Racing against teams like Absegami, Holy Spirit, La Salle and St. Joseph's helped us to get faster."

The Prep won the Atlantic County race at Lake Lenape in 4:36.35.

D'Amico considers St. Augustine's fifth-place finish in the Stotesbury Cup final on May 18 to be the crew's best race of the season. The Hermits won the petite final at the SRAA a week later in 4:24.45.

St. Augustine always has some other winning crews in its fleet. The Prep second eight and lightweight eight also both won at the Garden State and Atlantic County regattas.

"All our seniors are in the varsity, second or lightweight eight, and they all won a state championship," D'Amico said. "All our boats were very competitive this year. The program had strong senior leadership. Our senior lightweights really helped the sophomores."

Capone, Barry, and Ruskey, plus Brian Tindall of the Prep second eight, will each be part of the Drexel University crew program next year. Watson will row for George Washington. James Boney and Ryan Gerace of the second eight will both compete for La Salle University, and John Livingstone of the second eight will row for Marist College.

From the Hermits' lightweight eight, Vittorio DiPentino (Temple University), Bill Mayer (University of Delaware), Connor Burbridge (Lehigh University) and Conor Murphy (Notre Dame) will continue their rowing careers next year in college.

Coach of the Year

D'Amico is The Press Coach of the Year for the second time in three years.

"It's an honor to be chosen, and I have to thank the assistant coaches, the school administration, the athletic director (Dennis Foreman) and the families," D'Amico said. "We're all on the same page to make the program go. Without them I couldn't do a fraction of what we do. It's all for the kids."

Contact Guy Gargan:

609-272-7210