Competing in National Schools Regatta are, from left, cox Lexi Greenbaum and rowers Henry Vecchione, Kjel Schlemmer, Owen King, Kenny Coplan, Alex Abuhoff, Patrick King, Djoume Traore, and George Vrotsos-Rogers. Courtesy Karen Vrotsos

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairocal.news

In what has likely been the best Montclair High School sports season nobody is talking about, the Mounties crew team has taken home numerous titles. Now, as the end of the school year grows close, the Mounties have the opportunity to fly to England to compete in the Henley Royal Regatta.

Held on the Thames River in the town of Henley-on-Thames, the regatta was established in 1839 and is a 1-mile, 550-yard course. It lasts for five days and runs from June 28 to July 2 this year.

This is the first time since 2014 and only the third time ever that a MHS crew team has competed at the regatta.

It’s been that kind of season for the Mounties, who are undefeated in competition in 2017. On April 29, they became the first public school in the history of the Garden State Scholastic Championships to win the race, and both the boys and girls teams won.

When it comes to rowing, that’s unusual, said Coach Jeremy Michalitsianos.

“Most schools competing are private,” he said. It’s a very big deal for Montclair High School to be unbeaten.”

The boys varsity eight then won their first-ever Stotesbury Championship, another regatta normally dominated by private schools. However, the Mounties knifed through the Schuylkill River on a mission to take home the trophy, and they did.

A win at the SRAA Nationals Regatta on May 27 and another at the National Schools’ Championship Regatta on June 10 cemented MHS’ ticket to England.

Of course, now they have to find a way to buy that ticket.

Winning their way to the Henley Royal Regatta wasn’t easy, but actually traveling there presents a new set of challenges. Michalitsianos says the cost to get the team to England is $22,000.

So in addition to training, the team is working hard to raise funds. Along with the team of eight rowers (Henry Vecchione, Kjel Schlemmer, Owen King, Kenny Coplan, Alex Abuhoff, Patrick King, Djoume Traore and George Vrostos), and coxswain Alexa Greenbaum, the cost covers the coaches and alternates Devin Murphy and Paul Mihalis.

It also involves $1,400 for boat rental, $1,200 for stewards’ passes to view the races, and over $5,000 for the athletes’ 11-night stay in nearby homes, hosted by local families.

Add in airfare and meals for hungry rowers and you can see how quickly that bill adds up.

They’ve already set up a webpage to fund the trip. As of Tuesday evening, the fund was at just over $6,400. On Saturday they’ll host a car wash and bake sale at the Montclair High School Inness Annex from 1 to 5 p.m.

This first-place win at the National Schools’ Regatta this past weekend added to their bankroll with a $3,000 prize as well.

For Michalitsianos, this is a reward for a team that has worked very hard to get where it is.

“This is the culmination of lots of hard work,” Michalitsianos said. “We have lots of talent, both boys and girls. We have a lot of depth, as well. Both [the top] varsity eight and the second varsity as well.”

Michalitsianos said it began in the winter, when the team increased its focus on rowing machines. The idea was that they could use them to get quicker, and while Michalitsianos said it’s hard to quantify the results this early, it seems to have worked.

Conditioning leads to success, Michalitsianos said. From all accounts, this is a very well-conditioned team.

Beyond that, though, this is a very self-motivated group of athletes. They work four evenings a week, as well as a couple of days before school and every time the coaches give them a work plan, the team asks for more, Michalitsianos said.

That, as much as anything else, Michalitsianos credits for the season the entire team has had — whether they’re among those going to England or not.

“In a sport like soccer, you can just step on the field and play well with less practice,” he said. “Rowing is equal parts technique, conditioning and strength. Bad at any one of them, and you don’t win.”

Michalitsianos knows that the Henley Royal Regatta will feature a high level of competition and very quick boats. He says he has a very quick boat as well, and all their training gives this team a chance to come home winners.

The team leaves for England on June 21.

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