The Absegami High School boys varsity eight led the Braves to the program’s first No. 1 ranking in The Press Elite 11 in April.
Traditional powers such as Mainland Regional, Ocean City and St. Augustine Prep gave Absegami’s varsity eight good competition. But the Braves stayed consistent as South Jersey’s best and never lost the top spot.
Absegami is The Press boys crew Team of the Year.
The Press crew Elite 11 rankings rate overall team performances, with an emphasis on the varsity eights.
The season has five championship regattas on consecutive weekends. The Absegami varsity eight led South Jersey boats in the Philadelphia Scholastic Rowing Association City Championships, the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia and the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta in Nashport, Ohio.
The other two events, the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships and the Atlantic County High School Rowing Championships, were ended early due to high winds, before the boats in the major categories raced.
The Absegami boys varsity-eight crew included stroke Sean Blair, Tyler Lancaster, Avi Desai, Austin Reeder, Evan Taylor, Bobby Cuviello, Mike Daniels, bow Chris Feliciano and coxswain Owen Fitzgerald. All were members of last year’s All-Star junior eight.
“Being first in South Jersey is a huge accomplishment and a testament to how hard they worked,” said Absegami boys crew coach Dan Salerno. “It’ll really be encouraging to the others in the program to pick up where the seniors left off.”
Absegami placed fourth in the Philadelphia City Championships in 4 minutes, 09.54 on May 5, and Mainland was fifth in 4:09.80. At the Stotesbury Cup, the Braves had South Jersey’s best time but failed to advance out of the semifinals. The field had 36 crews.
The Braves’ varsity eight placed third in a repechage race at the SRAA and made the petite final. The crew placed fifth in that final in 4:38.11.
“My message was to go out and execute our race plan, and if we do that we should be in good condition,” Salerno said. “Most of the season they were on the money with the execution.
“The two cancellations takes away from the season, but safety is the most important thing,” Salerno said. “We would have walked away with a lot of medals and had a shot to win the varsity eight and second eight. We were hoping to win our first (team) points title at Atlantic County.”
Blair, an 18-year-old senior and Galloway Township resident, will row for Drexel University next year with a partial scholarship that’s academic and athletic.
“It feels amazing to be the best in South Jersey,” Blair said. “The season was both exciting and disappointing. I wish we would have won (the shortened County event). But I see the year as successful. I enjoyed rowing with my friends.”
Lancaster, also an 18-year-old senior and Galloway resident, will row for La Salle University next year on a partial athletic and academic scholarship.
“Varsity eight was way harder than junior eight but was still fun competitive-wise,” Lancaster said. “It feels really good to be the best in South Jersey.”
Fitzgerald was one of the crew’s five juniors on the area’s leading boat.
“It feels awesome,” said Fitzgerald, a 16-year-old Galloway resident. “We had a lot of cool moves, and when we made them, the boat would always pick up. I thought we’d be good, but I was surprised at how well we did.”
Coach of the Year
Salerno, in his third year, is The Press boys crew Coach of the Year for leading Absegami to its first No. 1 ranking in The Press’ final Elite 11.
“Wow, that’s awesome,” Salerno said. “It’s a real honor, but I couldn’t have done it without my assistants, Ray Sykes and Liam Edwards. They were invaluable and at my side the whole time.
“Only two guys from the team ever rowed in a varsity boat before this year, but the team worked really hard to get better.”