The Holy Spirit High School girls varsity-eight boat again set the standard for South Jersey girls crews this spring in the sport’s toughest division.

The Spartans’ overall program, even though smaller than in past years, led The Press Elite 11 each week.

Holy Spirit’s varsity eight dominated the Atlantic and Cape May county area and was competitive against Philadelphia-area crews, too. A strong second eight helped to keep the Spartans No. 1.

Holy Spirit is again The Press Girls Crew Team of the Year.

“The varsity eight were great kids, and they had a competitive light,” Holy Spirit girls crew coach Joe Welsh said. “Rory (Roberts, a Holy Spirit assistant coach) coached them, and he had them rowing very well, technically. They’re a nice group of young ladies and you can tell by how many are going off to college.”

The Spartans varsity eight consisted of stroke Hayley McKeever, Shannon Boyle, Rachel Fabel, Claira Fucetola, Steph Di Ianni, Kira McCully, Callie Miller, bow Amanda Kelly and coxswain Natalie Weeks.

Holy Spirit finished second to Montclair High School at the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships on April 29. The Spartans took second to Mount St. Joseph at the Philadelphia City Rowing Championships a week later. Holy Spirit won by more than five seconds at the Atlantic County High School Rowing Championships on May 14. They also finished second in the petite final at the Stotesbury Cup in a time (5 minutes, 6.51 seconds) that was faster than all but three crews in the grand final. The crew ended its season by finishing sixth in the petite final at nationals.

The crew has five seniors. Di Ianni and Miller will each row for Jacksonville University next year. Boyle will compete for Drexel University, and McCully will row for the University of Rhode Island. Kelly will attend the University of Delaware, but will not row.

“The varsity-eight and second-eight races against each other in practice, and they both got faster,” Welsh said. “The varsity eight did a nice job showing a lot of speed. They fell a bit short at the end of the year, but that was due to the strong competition from out of the area. In the South Jersey-Philly region, they were definitely one of the fastest.”

McCully was the only returnee to the boat who was in it full-time last year.

“We put our heads down and put out our best effort,” said McCully, an 18-year-old Northfield resident. “We performed better than last year, and that was definitely one of my goals this year. We had higher finishes in the medal (championship) races. Our girls were smaller, they could have been a lightweight program.

“It’s an honor to be the best in South Jersey. Holy Spirit is a prestigious program, and I’m very proud and honored to be able to represent them.”

Seven members of the varsity eight, all but McCully and Fucetola, came out of last year’s junior eight, which was second in the 2016 Stotesbury Cup in Philadelphia.

“It was definitely different to be in with the best of the best this year, but we also were a part of that,” said Di Ianni, an 18-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident. “It was a very successful year and very rewarding. We just went out and did our thing without feeling any pressure.”

The Holy Spirit girls second eight won at the Philadelphia City Championships and was second in the Stotesbury Cup. The Spartans crew included stroke Claire Tuohy, Megan Biondi, Erin Shober, Abby Citta, Kristen Curran, Abby Koch, Maddy Koch (Abby’s sister), bow Delaney Dooley and coxswain Megan Shober (Erin’s sister).

Citta will row for Drexel University next year, and Erin Shober will compete for Rhode Island.

Coach of the Year

Ocean City’s Ian Tapp, a first-year head coach, led the Red Raiders to an outstanding season. The O.C. girls varsity eight finished fourth in the Philadelphia City Championships and was usually second in the area to Holy Spirit. The Red Raiders had two All-Star boats, the lightweight eight and freshman eight.

“That’s awesome, I didn’t expect it,” said Tapp when informed of his selection. “I have to give a lot of credit to my assistants, (sisters) Kaitlyn and Kelly Rupert. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls. We had a lot of success with several boats. It’s a testament to the girls, what they did this year.”

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Staff Writer

I’ve been at The Press since January of 1983. I cover all sports in general, but mostly lifeguard racing, and high school field hockey, football, swimming, basketball, crew, baseball and softball.

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