The high school crew season began over the weekend for most of the teams from Atlantic, Cape and Cumberland counties.

The Lake Lenape Sprints I was held Saturday in Mays Landing. The 1,500-meter course, which ends just beyond the lighthouse on the lake, is Atlantic County's top high school crew venue. The second Manny Flick-Horvat Regatta was held Sunday on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

Racing is held weekends in Philadelphia, Mays Landing, on the Cooper River in Camden, in Middletown, Del., and at Mercer County Park.

The first of the five championship regattas is the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships scheduled for April 26 on the Cooper River in Camden County.

The Press Elite 11 rankings will run on Mondays starting in early April. The rankings rate teams according to overall performance, with an emphasis on the varsity eights.

Boys team previews

St. Augustine Prep returns 12 seniors, including three coxswains. Rowers Zach LaBarth, Shane Dickson and Zack Seither are back from the Hermits' varsity eight, which led the team to the No. 1 ranking all season last year in the Elite 11.

The Prep varsity eight won the Garden State regatta for the sixth straight year. The varsity eight was second in the Philadelphia City Championships and won the Atlantic County race by more than seven seconds. The crew was fifth at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia, and won the petite (consolation) final at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta (commonly called the Nationals) on the Cooper River.

Senior Kieran Hughes was in the second eight last year, and Tommy Puhalski rowed in the lightweight eight. Both boats were Press All-Star selections last spring. Matt Mohnack and Eric Jones were in the junior eight in 2013, while Hughes was in the second eight. The senior coxswains are Billy Reeves, Andrew Parra and Edward Worton.

"We graduated 22 seniors last year, so there's a big gap in our upper boats," St. Augustine coach Ray D'Amico said. "Our young guys will have a chance to move up. Our senior group is very skilled, so we should be fast."

Absegami returns many from last year's team, which finished fourth in the Elite 11. The Braves have six seniors, including Samran Ali and brother Soban Ali, Matt Deibert, Joey Hawn, Kyle Hershman and coxswain Shiv Patel.

"It's going to be tough to keep up with the varsity-eight tradition that (former head coach) Jack McCabe had," coach Todd Warker said. "But with the freshmen we have coming up, I don't see why we can't equal that or do better eventually."

Holy Spirit has eight seniors and many of its top rowers back. The Spartans could improve on last year's No. 5 ranking in the Elite 11.

Holy Spirit's junior eight was a Press All-Star boat, and current seniors Steve Brown, Harrison Gargel, Austin Theuret and Jake Fabel were members of that crew. The Spartans also have Jack Marczyk, Pat Shober and Brett Hanson.

"We're hoping to be very competitive this year," coach Mike Giegerich said.

Ocean City has nearly everyone back from last year and should have a good season. Seniors Jake Newsome, Pat Carr, Will Graham and coxswain Chris Barham were part of a Red Raiders lightweight eight that won at Lake Lenape on Saturday. Other contributors include Noah Bromhead, Dennis Newell, T.C. Carroll and coxswain Justin Goucher. The Red Raiders' freshman eight and novice eight were both Press All-Star boats last spring.

"I just want the boys to row as well as they can," coach Mike Millar said.

Oakcrest returns all four rowers from a junior four that last year won Atlantic County, was third at Stotesbury and second at the Nationals. Those four are seniors Jeremy Nale, Zach Hartman, Matt Dragotto and Robert Tewell. The Falcons also have seniors Kenny Roller, Joey Abbott and Tyler Baldi.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the hard work pay off," coach Kevin Wessler said. "We're looking forward to seeing the varsity eight get some medals."

Egg Harbor Township likely will be led by seniors Ryan Rimmele, Trevor Tuthill and Waleed Omar, who won in the varsity four Saturday at Lake Lenape, along with Wei Li and coxswain Frankie Sutton.

"I preach that we bow to nobody," coach Phil Strauss said. "If we're good enough to medal, that's good. If not, it's a good learning experience."

Vineland has Kyle Leimeister and Josh Marcacci back from last year's varsity four that won the Atlantic County race and became a Press All-Star boat. The Fighting Clan also have Mark Novatorskiy, this winter's Press Boys Swimmer of the Year, plus Chad Menz and Dylan Gentile.

"We got the ball rolling last year, but this year we need to earn more respect," coach Joe LaRosa said.

Atlantic City has mostly juniors and will run a freshman eight for the first time in John Slattery's five years as the coach.

The Vikings likely will be led by Juan Forero, Hunter Pizagno, Gavin Stecker, Santiago Gonzalez, McCarthy Johnson and Ahmed Dewair. Leading the freshmen are Bradford Cress and Connor Jones.

"We're looking forward to the season because of the progress the younger kids have made," Slattery said.

Mainland Regional graduated only one senior and has a solid core back. The Mustangs have several freshmen, too. Mainland has seniors Martin Brenner, Jesse Troiano, Patrick Green, John Nazha, Paul Berges and Chris Castellano, and juniors Doug Davis, Mike Bell and Zach Ewing.

"The guys are hungry and competitive, and those are attributes you want in your athletes," coach David Funk said. "We'll try to make an impact."

Cedar Creek features seniors Kendall Laster, Drew Logan and Pat Lowe.

"We're hoping to go out and challenge other boats," coach Mike Simons said.

Girls team previews

Holy Spirit dominated southern New Jersey girls crew in 2013 with an outstanding varsity eight and for the second straight year an undefeated lightweight eight. The Spartans, No. 1 in the final Press Elite 11, certainly should be strong again.

The varsity eight won last season's first three championship regattas, the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships, the Philadelphia City Championships, and the Atlantic County Championships. Holy Spirit won the County race by more than eight seconds.

Holy Spirit has 12 seniors, many of whom were in those two boats. Seniors Christine Wojciechowicz, Lauren Slattery, Michelle Smith, Tara Puhalski and coxswain Claire McLenna were in last year's varsity eight. Caroline Bradley, Cailin McCully and Danielle Peck are seniors from the 2013 lightweight eight.

Three of this year's seniors - Kristi Spicer, Catie Vesper and Nichole Vizthum - were in last year's junior eight, which also was a Press All-Star boat. The other Spartans All-Star boats were the second eight, freshman eight and lightweight quad. Another senior, Megan Gleason, was in the second eight.

"We've got some good kids. We're blessed with that," coach Joe Welsh said. "We think we'll be competitive. It's all up to them."

Absegami, second in the final Elite 11 of 2013, returns some of its team, including four who are back from last year's varsity eight. Seniors Briana Riccelli, a third-year member of the varsity eight, and Adrienne Pederson were part of the crew that upset Holy Spirit at the 2012 Atlantic County Championships. Pederson was in the second eight last year. Sue Greenwood, Kerri Roman and coxswain Alyssa Rice were in the varsity eight in 2013.

Also expected to be in the Braves' top boat are Sonia Rubillo, Sam Irvin, Mackenzie Dorsett and Arielle Schafer.

"We're hoping to hold our own in the varsity eight. Time will tell," coach Brad Young said.

Mainland Regional, No. 3 in the final 2013 Elite 11, concentrated on smaller boats the last few seasons but new coach Dave Bird plans to run a varsity eight this year. The Mustangs' varsity eight made a winning debut Saturday in a five-boat race at the Lake Lenape Sprints I. Yvonne Olson, Jenna Rosado and coxswain Rachel Kelley were part of that crew. The Mustangs also have coxswain Erin McDonnell.

"We're going to give (the varsity eight) a shot," Bird said. "We have a young team, and it would be easy to go the junior-eight route, but we have some strong kids. We want to be competitive. That's always our goal."

Oakcrest, fourth in the Elite 11 at the end of last spring, features senior coxswain Lindsey Prychka, senior Jessica Lindsday and sophomore Giana Johnson. Several return from a junior eight that won the Garden State race and was third at the Nationals. The Falcons also have many freshmen.

"My goal is to have fun and keep them happy," coach Asiya Mahmud said. "That way we'll do better."

Atlantic City graduated five seniors but has seven back from last year's varsity eight. The Vikings, who were No. 5 in the final Elite 11 a year ago, are led by Leslie Feriozzi, Morgan Bassford, twins Abby and Maddie Gragg, Abby Pierson, Lauren Stinson, Taylor Hendri, Sam Magano and Teresa Burns.

"We have an exciting group of kids who are working real hard," coach Sean Duffey said. "We're looking forward to some good racing this year."

Egg Harbor Township has many returnees. Seniors Emily Woods, Antonia Maffia and coxswain Vida Torres are back from last year's junior four, which was a Press All-Star boat. Sydnie Pennington was the stroke of the varsity four in 2013. The Eagles have several good lightweights, including seniors Danielle McCormick, Krista Williams, Taylor Cass, Brook Gaskill and Allison Kiker.

"We're looking forward to a good season," coach Dan Welsh said. "We want to get racing to see what we have and what the others have. We should have some crews in the mix."

Vineland has three seniors - Aria Asselta, Aubrie Lincks and Mollie Fisher - who have rowed together four years. They combined with Rachel Fay and Ana Karen Mejia to win the girls varsity four race Saturday on Lake Lenape. Junior Lindsay Olita, a second-year rower, is a good prospect.

"I would say we have a very optimistic outlook on the season," coach Lauren Lillie said. "We have a lot of returning juniors and seniors, and we also have a group of promising novice rowers who are showing a lot of potential."

Ocean City doesn't return many juniors and seniors, but has many sophomores, and several freshmen and novices. The Red Raiders are led by seniors Susie Baumgardner and Maddie Szabo, junior Fiona Devine, and sophomores Fran Kane and Juliana Kemenosh.

"I think this year we can be strong in our categories," coach Alex Petrella said. "They're working hard."

Cedar Creek features the varsity four of Nikki Martin, Paige McColgan, Aeberli Begasse, Gabrielle Torres and coxswain Hope Long. The crew, all juniors except for sophomore McColgan, was second to Vineland on Saturday.

"The varsity four will be the leaders of the team," coach Mike Simons said. "The girls in the varsity four grew up together, and they push each other."

Our Lady of Mercy Academy graduated only two seniors off the 2013 team and could show improvement with the return of many experienced rowers. Coach Sean O'Brikis could not be reached for comment.

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