The News Page: US Scholastic Championships 5/26 and 5/27 in Saratoga

By David Greenspan_________________________________________________________

The Scholastic Rowing Association of America sponsors an annual 'qualifying' event. LM Crew, as do many, see it as one of the two 'big' events of the year, the other being Stotesbury. Whereas Stotes has no real qualifying limitation, everyone who goes to the SRA regatta has had to prove themselves, and if they row in one of the big regional events, they have to do well there to get in. As their rules state:

Rules of the Regatta This is a qualifying regatta. You must qualify at your local championship or petition for open slots. Priority for petition will be given to crews that are not from one of the five championships. The championships are New York State , Philadelphia Cities , New Jersey Scholastics, National Capital Championship, Virginia Scholastic Championship, Florida State Championship or the Mid-West Championship.

This year, the event was held in Saratoga Springs NY. A beautiful town nestled in the woods of the Catskill/Adirondack mountains. As headlined this Friday in The Saratogian "Saratoga Rowing History Runs Deep" writer Paul Post reported, "Saratoga Lake regattas goes back to the 1870's when some of the nation's oldest schools competed for top honors... the events were huge... grandstands could hold 6000... The first college regatta in 1874 was preceded by events featuring famous boat clubs from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore." Evidently, these 3 mile race events were held on the lake, not the creek where the shorter but much calmer race conditions were mostly ideal this weekend.

The Team was sent on ahead by bus leaving Thursday morning. The Parents Association had been busy all week in preparations. As Jayne Reicherter and Lisa Greenspan noted on numerous occasions as they helped organize the event support, "nobody wants these kids to worry about a single thing except their racing". Based on performance at the respective qualifying regattas, LM Crew sent three boats, the Men's Lightweight 4, the Women's Senior 4, and the Women's JV 8, the latter two making it in via their City Championship performances in the finals. These men and ladies, loaded up with baggage, met the bus at 8:00 am. On to the bus also went the tents, snack food, fluids, and other essentials that would support the team for their Thursday workout, and Friday and "fingers crossed" Saturday heats and finals. As I recall that early morning conversation, electric with the excitement that was already building despite the morning hour, Ruth Mandelbaum was voted 'best dressed', and Elise Levyn the 'best equipped' schlepping her three suitcases onto the bus. Snacking started immediately.

FRIDAY, MAY 26: The morning was overcast, but calm, slightly humid, temperature building into the 70's. There was a threat of rain, and as the day progressed, a real fear of lightning and hail pushed the event organizers to race through the normal lunch break and rush the events along as quickly as possible. A slight head wind was evident by the afternoon, but LM was mostly out of the water by the time the weather became a factor.

The JV women's 8 had to beat 4 crews and be in the top two of their heat to go to the finals. They were in a blistering heat, and settled for 6th just 0.5 seconds behind the 5th place boat from Thomas Jefferson (VA). Their time of 5:50.69 would have put them in second in heat one and fourth in heat 3 (10th fastest overall). As it happens, the top two of their heat went 1,3 in the final (Ursula and Oakcrest). Though disappointed with the result, they felt really good about their race and overall performance. The ladies stayed on to play critical support roles for the two varsity boats left to compete. They proved themselves invaluable in this purpose, helping to ensure that the other athletes had what they needed, when they needed it, to survive the rigors of their three races to come.

The Women's Varsity Openweight 4 (Senior 4 in this regatta) were getting faster with each week after breaking down the Varsity 8 from earlier in the season. There were 28 boats entered and so their mission was to move on from Friday's qualifying heat 3 to the semifinals where they would then have to be in the top two. Sporting sharp green hats, the ladies had something they wanted to say with their oars after their disappointing miss of the Stotesbury finals. They whomped their competition in the third of 5 heats, winning it with a time of 6:01, beating Moorestown by 11 seconds with Concord, Kearny, Newburgh Free and Oakcrest further behind.

Needless to say they were very pleased with their performance and clearly set the tone for the remaining 4's. Times are never really quite what they seem in qualifying rounds of this kind as boats will play headgames with their competition. Yet, a dominating row clearly made the statement that LM was here to race.

The Men also had a good day on Friday, with 3 to their own semi final, the competition of 24 pushed the guys a bit more vigorously this first day as all three that advanced this day proved to be eventual finalists. Clearly a favorite to enter the finals if not medal, the lightweights had a race plan that demanded all out effort to secure their place so as not to be caught off guard. They had 5 other boats to race, and pesky and fast Haverford was among them. They also had McQuaid Jesuit, who came in second in the NY Scholastics by a thread a couple of weeks earlier. Unfamiliar names, Woodson, Manchester Central and Brighton made the field a complete unknown. They won their race in 5:20.7 with McQuaid 2 seconds back and Haverford 4 seconds behind McQuaid. This was no walkover.

With the Friday events over, the rest of the day was spent in resting up, reviewing the results and times of the other heats for devising strategy, and... well... do what athletes need to do before a big event, watch X MEN 3! The Parents also had much to do. The meal plan went according to schedule, with food showing up as designed, and then kept coming, and coming, and... where was it all going to go? And what else was going to be needed for Saturday, now that the crew had two boats with medal hopes needing to pack in two races in 4 hours? And then the break down and return home. So much to do and plan for. And so, in keeping with that fine LM Crew team spirit the parents did what parents have to do before a big event, GO TO DINNER! And they did, with 26 gathering at Professor Moriorities for food and some drink and good times to assist in the planning and the sore feet from all the running about earlier in the day.

SATURDAY MAY 27: The overcast of yesterday had passed, though clouds were again promised. A light crossing tailwind kept the bugs down, but had little effect on the racing of the day. The morning started with the Ladies 4 in their 2 to the finals qualifying heat. The jitters were palpable, and I can't recall a single parent who claimed to have slept well the night before or who wasn't a bit distracted by the excitement. LM drew what appeared to be the toughest of the three qualifying heats. Peddie, who had been dominant all year won their heat on Friday easily, in a time that was 6 seconds faster than our girls, were in lane 3. We were in 4. St. Anthony's was there, a known threat that had easily handled Upper Merion on Friday (and UM made finals in Stotes but lost close pieces to us at the Cities and Upper Merion Regatta), and the biggest outside threat was Taylor Alderdice who came in second in their heat with a time that was 3 seconds faster than ours and everyone thought were 'holding back'. Many of us watched the race from the foot of the racecourse, looking up the lanes as opposed to across. Its a great place to see everything but a close finish. Peddie was out in front throughout the row, but as the boats came past the 750 mark, it looked like LM was in a controlling second and stayed their throughout. I believe it was the change from green to white hats that made the difference for them.

Though it could be those left shoulder Tatoos. It is so important to be properly equipped to win races!

OK! In to the finals for the first time in sweeps in many years. Peddie won the heat by 7 seconds but St. Anthony's was a full length back failing to make it. The LM time of 5:38.6 gave them the third fastest time of the day as well. Stanton won their heat in 5:37 but also looked vulnerable due to a crab in the last 20 strokes. Other than Peddie, the remaining 5 boats for the final would be within 3 seconds of each other based on time, thats no more than a boat length.

The Men followed in their semifinal heat. 3 to the final, but oh what a heat. LM was in lane 3 with Belleville in lane 4, the same Belleville that has been chasing our men and missing by less than a length at Upper Merion and at Stotesbury. Lane 5, Christian Brothers, our nemesis that had come up short by 1 second in the Cities and a bow ball from the bronze medal in the Stotes. And there was Haverford again, who had also been close to our men in many a Flick race, came in third in the Cities, and still had more speed after the qualifying heat Friday. New Trier, Father Judge, and Gloucester rounded out the field of 7 for this heat with Gloucester getting in without qualifying on Friday and so was completely unknown. (They evidently missed the fact that the Friday lunch was cancelled and so missed that race. A petition got them in.) OK, so who isn't nervous about this! I can tell you that it was hard to hold the camera and watch this one. Again, taking it in from the foot of the course, the rowing came right down at us. If you look up at the water horizon and judge the height of the boats against it, you get a pretty good feeling for how the race is progressing. LM had a slim lead coming in to the 750, but it was Christian Brothers and Haverford who were both right there with them. Belleville was not to be brushed away so fast, nor was New Trier. The boys looked pretty wrecked at the end of their piece and we on the point couldn't even be sure it was them or Christian Brothers who won. One parent even thought Haverford had caught them in last few strokes. Haverford had a mean sprint and pulled in close. Evidently, Aaron asked a parent who was watching from the bridge that is just past the finish line, because he wasn't sure if they finished first or second. Huddling around the official scoreboard waiting for the posting lead to real relief when that "1" was put up next to LM. They beat Christian Brothers by 0.6 seconds, in the fastest time of the two heats with 5:05.4. Haverford was third in 5:08.6.

Maybe the guys needed tatoos or white hats?

Despite the fact that the ladies raced first in the morning, two and a half hours later, the men were up for their finals. Can you imagine the intensity of those 150 minutes? The air was muggy warm, so the two boats of athletes were put on the airconditioned bus. The JV ladies came through with food, fluids and emotional support to get them ready for their afternoon races. Strategy was created as the events were reviewed. For the men, it seemed like their semifinal race was going to be the preview for the final. The second heat put Mcquaid Jesuit, Saratoga and Forest Park in to the finals in times that were 5 seconds slower than our boys. But that is never completely reliable is it? And Saratoga won their heat and are the home town favorites. LM was in lane 3, Christian Brothers in lane 5, Saratoga in lane 4, McQuaid in lane 6, Haverford in lane 2 and Forest in lane 1. We chose to watch the finals from the finish line, wanting a more definitive view of the last few feet. Marshall Cassidy announced the races; he had previously been the announcer for the horse racing that is so popular at Saratoga. As the race got under way, LM was reportedly in 4th behind Christian Brothers, Saratoga and McQuaid. The announcer continued these positions throughout the first thousand, though by the time the last 500 was approached, it seemed clear to us on the sideline that LM and Christian Brothers were the only two in the dog fight for the gold. Frankly, I was less nervous for this race than for the first two. As a parent, I knew our kids were going to give it the best that they could, and they made the finals of the US Scholastics. How cool is that! So, anything they were going to do today was fine with me. And to tell you the truth, I was really puzzling over CB. I mean, to lose to our boys by less than 2 seconds in the Cities, a bow ball in the Stotes, and then 0.6 seconds in the heat earlier today, I sort of felt like the dice was going to have to fall their way sometime. So, when CB appeared to be out in front by a little bit with 500 to go, the excitement on the sideline was noted but not overwhelming for me. I might have been alone however. I got a few pictures of Brian right about then.

See what I mean? I don't think he was quite as relaxed as I was. But the announcer was clearly mistaken. McQuaid and Saratoga were not in this race anymore despite his insisting it was so. LM and CB were in a dog fight and leaving the other crews behind. According to Steve, "CB had a couple of seats until a power 10 at the 500 meter mark put us about even. They countered with a 10 of their own but this move was also countered and by the 750 our big move put us up maybe 1/2 a length. With 500 meters to go they pulled back even with us. We exchanged seats for a bit as we started our final moves that includes lengthening out for 10, our monster power 10 to get the rating up, and then sustain that until the last 200 meters when we ramp it up to about 45 strokes per minute..." On the bank, it looked like CB was up until the last 10 strokes, but the perspective plays tricks. It was pretty clear (though wishful thinking can disturb things enough in close races that you want to wait for the official call) that LM won the gold. Brian certainly thought so as he shouted and jumped up and down, ending up in the water oblivious to everything.

Okay, so maybe the men didn't need the white hats. But this was really close. "The race of our lives" had been stated. Lots of happy people on the bank too, especially after the official results were posted.

The 4 looked good on their way back to the dock, but according to Aaron, he wasn't certain they had won despite Brian's demonstration.

The official times made it clear that the history books have been closed on this one. McQuaid must be disappointed missing a medal by 0.3 seconds, but Saratoga got their home grown boys onto the medal stand a length back.

Medals are nice, and the plaque will look good in the halls of LM. These men have had a really special year, undefeated in all races except for the Stotesbury final where a bronze still is an amazing accomplishment. Evidently, at the medal stand, the three lightweight 4 crews congratulated each other, and stood for group pictures. One rowing onlooker watching the camaraderie of these otherwise fierce competitors said, "I so love this sport". Don't we all!

And while all of this excitement is going on, the Women's Senior 4 has launched for their finals event. Being the parent of a boy, I was over the hump, emotionally exhausted and still pretty much numb with the whole experience. So, for me, the Women's race was all pleasure. In this case I think Marshall had called it pretty well. Peddie was a known entity, untouched in all races it entered, Stotesbury winner by open water, these ladies were demonstrably fast. It was Stanton, Woodbridge, Cincinatti and Kingston that were the real unknowns, and all made this race within 3 seconds of each other. LM was called in second or third throughout much of the race. Peddie even faltered in the second 500 and was called in second behind Stanton at that point. As the boats got to the last 500, it looked to me like Peddie was back in control but it was a real dogfight between us and Stanton for the silver. I didn't see Woodbridge, Kingston or Cincinatti as in it. Even Peddie wasn't killing everyone. They had a length, but that was it, and so appeared vulnerable. The women were thrilled with their race. Exchanging seats with Stanton until the Stanton sprint proved to be the more effective. Our ladies took third, well away from the 4th place boat. Though the official times had us down by a length, it surely didn't look that way to my eye.

See, even Stanton (in lane 5) knew white hats were key. (Peddie is in the foreground with the yellow oars.)

The women knew they had done something special. Their coach did too. As I was running between taking pictures of the Men on their medal stand, and the ladies and their racing, and then ran back to the trailer to get some shots, I passed by the tent, with the adults working hard at breaking everything down. And what adults? Well, Mandelbaum and Trope. Silly grownups, their daughter's have just won a medal at the SRA regatta and they are worrying about packing up? "Come on guys, there are the men's parents for this right now, your girls are going to be at the trailer!" I shouted on the run. It was great to see the celebrating, the hugs and high fives.

I think this is the first time I was able to get a picture of Zach without a scowl for some reason or another.

And who wasn't proud of these ladies on the medal stand. What a superb portrait of team spirit and pride they make.

So what more is there to say about the SRA's for 2006? Lots of happy athletes with superb performances. And lots of shed tears by those, mostly seniors, who will be saying goodbye to rowing at LM. And some shedding similar tears knowing they will be saying goodbye to these seniors. Lots of exhausted parents, still schlepping after all is otherwise done, with tent breakdown, packing up the bus, getting the kids from school at 8:45 pm and so on. Ohhh, is the banquet on Tuesday going to be a blast. And the word is, there is more racing to be done. But that is for another time.

For results, you can try the SRA web site via our Regatta and Events page. But I haven't been able to find Saturday's results posted there, so if you want the times for all the races, try http://www.roninracing.com/SRAA2006.htm