The News Page: NJSRA championships 4/29/06

By Brian Conley _________________________________________________________

It was unlike any NJ Championships that I have been to as Head Coach for Lower Merion in so many ways. First came with the weather. Instead of the stormy skies and muddy trailer field, we were graced with beautiful blue skies and some light winds that moved up the course throughout the day. The athletes were forced to arrive at the river early on Saturday morning because of the need to rig the boats. The freshmen arrived at 6:30am and immediately put to work. The coach's meeting went off on time (another unusual start to NJ's). The racing began with the Men's Novice four race in the morning. The time trial format really makes it difficult to see where you are in the race and also makes the competitve level very challenging as there are no boats next to you. You have to stay mentally strong throughout the race.

The women's Freshmen 8+ continuing their improvement each week, placed 9th in the time trial just missing the finals by 3 places. The Men's Freshmen 8+ placed 13th overall, but were smart and well prepared for the rules of racing. The men saw equipment failure in the first 200 meters of the race and the coxswain Ty, pulled the men out of the race and made the official aware of the issue. This allowed the men another chance at racing as long as it was fixed within 30 minutes. The men received a new oar and took off. I saw them as they crossed the line and they looked solid at the start, but the energy spent in the first try may have had an effect, plus sitting in the sun waiting for equipment to be fixed.

The Women's Lightweight four felt they rowed a solid race and that the results may have been wrong, since originally the results posted were having the men's freshmen 8+ winning the lightweight 4+. The officials at that point stated that the results were wrong and posted only the 6 crews that were in the finals. After much heated discussion, the coaches of several crews will never know the actual times of the crews. The JV crews still found difficulty with the head racing as well. Falling off the pace the first crews had set early in the race. We hope that they continue to build and stay strong as they will be the future of the program.

The Men's Lightweight 4+ started off first in their time trial, which allowed them to be in a place they have been getting used to. They cruised to a 2 second victory in the time trial and immediately went to the lovely hotel rooms to rest for their final. The Women's Varsity 8+ went onto the course behind their nemisis Pendie. Within the first 500 meters it was clear that LM was much stronger and faster but because they were so strong and fast they caught the other crew that had gone off about 30 seconds ahead of them, Haddonfield. They did not yield the lane of racing as they should have for the next 700 meters, causing the girls to have to slow down and then go around them. The women missed the final by a small margin as they finished 7th overall in the time trial. The Men's V4+ saw one of their best races of the season. They were strong and tall the whole race as they had worked on the start and finish of their race all week. They missed the final by less than 3 seconds. With these time trials that don't really show the racing abilities of our rowers, we placed 1 boat in the Grand Final and 2 boats in the Petite Final.

FINALS: The Men's Lightweight 4+ were the first final to watch for Lower Merion that day. With the wind picking up more in the afternoon and the fact that the crews were then using stake boats for a fair and even start does not make it easy to keep your boat pointed in the direction to get the straight line needed for the shortest distance. After much work to get a point, Aaron Greenspan made me aware that the race was forced to a count down start, which does not recognize crews if they are not ready. Aaron stated that they were pointed in the lane next to them, which did not allow for their fast start off the line. The Men worked together in the first 150 meters to get the boat corrected into the straight line that Aaron needed to help his crew and that was when the crew took off. At 300 meters, LM moved into the lead with authority taking a seat every 2-3 strokes on the field. At 500 meters into the race, LM had open water. They were not satisfied with that and came across the line almost 8 seconds ahead of the next crew. They received their gold medals and the trophy and plaque which will have their names engraved.

The Men's V4+ came down in the petite final placing third. The men were extremely disappointed with not making the final and found it hard to find the same rythym that they had in the time trial. It shows exactly how much mental prep has to go into racing as well. They look to prove who they are in the upcoming City Championships.

The Women's Varsity 8+ showed exactly why they should have been in the Grand Final by winning by open water. They did not receive the gold medal but they showed that they deserved to be in the top 6 slots of racing. As the medals continue to come in, the athletes will stay focused on the prized race of the year, Stotesbury. I look forward to seeing all the parents and athletes supporting the team on the banks of the river.

By David Greenspan_________________________________________________________

Could it really be the New Jersey Scholastic Championships? There were many doubters among us. Who would believe this regatta could be run with a bright blue sky, 10 mile per hour headwind and temperatures in the 60's! The mud, wind and rain of the last two NJSRA experiences are but memories now. The Cooper river in Camden proved to be a perfect venue for some racing. Chaminade from NY, Mount Saint Joseph's and Harriton from PA, and many from NJ gathered for the event.

Most 'medal' regattas use heats in the morning to identify the 6 fastest crews for finals in the afternoon. The NJSRA has moved to 'head style' racing for that purpose. Easier in many ways, head racing is against the clock, one boat sent onto the course after another. Challenges for the officiating is to get the times right, and to ensure that passing crews get space by requiring slower crews to yield. Neither are always easy, and the NJSRA officials had their hands full at times. Crews work hard all year, and all want a fair shot at having their sacrifice and expertise recognized. There were complaints last year about this regatta's management, and the complaints continue for this year. Despite the grievances, most of the results represented a fair showing of how the LM crews are fairing now a week from the City Championship and three weeks from the Stotesbury Cup.

Some 'behind the scenes' highlights you ask? There were plenty of those. The parents continued to show their spirit. Renting a couple of rooms to support the athletes between heats, the tent full of food and ready to go, beach chairs crowding the bank near the finish line for all who want to watch and cheer, showed the love for the sport and our athletes. ALRIGHT LM Parents!

The morning head races included Dan Abrams getting an oar handle stuck in his back not once but twice! As the Men's frosh 8 started up river in their head race, his blade had 'delaminated' causing successive crabs. Dan is stuck in the finish when the 6 seat is running toward the catch (the point in the stroke when the blade enters the water). OUCH! Fortunately, it was early in the row, so an equipment change was permitted and the boys got a rowover later in the morning for time. Not the most competitive way to do a time trial, but at least they had the chance.

The biggest complaint came with the Varsity Women's 8 who got stuck behind Haddonfield that didn't yield water. (See the PIC on the Home page!) Missing the finals by 7 seconds over a 6 minute piece could easily be accounted for by this delay. The NJSRA officials acknowledged the problem when LM protested but wouldn't add them to the finals and put them in lane 3 for the 'Petites' (Crew placements 7-12). I wouldn't have wanted to be those officials facing Zach when the decision was made. Hours later he could only glare at me when I asked him how he felt about it, "its demoralizing for the kids, what are they thinking!" (At least that's a cleaned up version.)

OK, so lets get on with the results. One LM boat made the finals this year. And you guessed right, the GOLD MEDALIST Men's Varsity Lightweight 4+ dominated this year's event. First in their head race at 5:47 two seconds faster than Egg Harbor they won the 1500 meter finals by open water in 5:41, a full 8 seconds ahead of Christian Brothers, with Belleville, Egg Harbor, Don Bosco and Oakcrest further back. The headwind created some havoc at the starting line. This was the first race using 'stake boats' where the tail of the boat is held firm in the water at an anchored boat or dock to ensure an even and fair start. Headwinds push the bows off point, and so getting all 6 pointing properly to send them off is difficult indeed. Coxes use a hands up to show the officials that they are getting set but not yet ready. Its a judgment call by the cox and the officials who need to keep the races moving. Off point at the start, LM was down a few seats through the first 300 meters. Then a move there put them out front for the remainder of the row. Long piece with a head wind, heavy rowing picking up the boat at each catch, but steadier for the set, a headwind race has to be rowed differently then a tailwind or calm race course. The boys took another move at the 750 mark and dominated the latter half going away and not challenged again. A nice ceremony followed with the boys getting their medals, and the school its plaque at the finish line dock. The trophy stays with the school for a year, the last time LM had this trophy was in 1997. A few minutes later, the cox Aaron Greenspan is climbing out of the Cooper river after the traditional dunking. He was all smiles (More PICS on the Home page).

The Varsity Women's 8+ came in 7th in their head race in 5:57, as noted earlier, with considerable protest. They dominated their Petite Final, out in front early and controlling the race throughout (as best we could tell from along way down river). No doubt these ladies were hungry to show how they were wronged and should have been in the final. They won in 5:51, open water and 5 seconds ahead of Prendergast with Merion Mercy, Egg Harbor, Atlantic City and Haddonfield well back. Yep, that same Haddonfield crew that slowed them up in the morning head race came in 12th overall, 32 seconds behind our girls. On windy days it is hard to compare times from race to race. Conditions can change, and change often. Sailors will tell you that wind comes in sustained gusts and are unpredictable. Even head races can be 'unfair' in that sense as some boats may have to row into stiffer head winds just seconds apart. Moreover, competition brings out the 'best' in people, and so it would be hard to say if our ladies were in the final whether they would have been competitive or well off the pace set by those crews.

The Men's Varsity Heavy 4+ came in 9th overall of 17, third in their Petite final that was dominated by an Oakcrest crew that had 20 seconds over the second place Moorestown crew with our boys 1 1/2 lengths further back. Hopefully, I will hear more from the 4 and their thoughts on their racing this day. I had heard that they had gone to dinner together the night before to boost their comaraderie, never a bad thing. Sport in general, and rowing in particular is about far more than just winning and losing. And without the glamour of other sports, and the inability to really have a 'standout' performer, the 'team' and commitment to each other makes boats fast. One 'great' rower, out of synch with the others is more a handicap than a help, so its personal sacrifice to fitness and then psychological sacrifice of personal glory and at times even personal opinion to that of the common good that is a must in this sport. Go guys!

The Women's Varsity Lightweight 4+ had a tougher row this day. There were no 'petites' for this event, so failing to make the finals finished their rowing after their head race as was true for the other crews of the day. For all the place and time details, go to http://www.njsrc.net/.