Montclair High School rowers overcame a last-minute roster change and a highly competitive fi eld to fi nish higher than any Mont-clair boat previously. From left: Kjel Schlemmer, Djoume Traore, Max Pursche, Alex Abuhoff , James Pew, Owen King, Kenny Coplan, Henry Vecchione, and cox Julianna Langhorn. COURTESY KAREN VROTSOS

by Andrew Garda

After winning their first three races, Montclair rowers made it to the semifinals of the Henley Regatta, the sport’s best-known event worldwide, marking the best result ever for a Montclair boat.

Athletes traveled from all over the world to compete in this most coveted five-day, single elimination regatta. Founded in 1839, the Henley Royal Regatta was held from Wednesday, July 4, to Sunday, July 8, at Henley-On-Thames, England.

After two rowers were injured in a car accident just two weeks before heading to England, the coaches quickly reconfigured the boat  by bringing back two alumni rowers, which moved them from the high school-aged competition to an open category competing for the Thames Challenge Cup against older, more experienced crews.

“After the shock of the car crash, we were just relieved that both boys will make a full recovery and we are thankful that they weren’t more seriously hurt. We are also thankful to the stewards of the regatta for allowing us to switch our entry into an adult event,” said head coach Jeremy Michalitsianos.

Competing as a Montclair Mounties Rowing Club entry, the club team included high school seniors Julianna Langhorn, the  coxswain, and oarsmen Henry Vecchione, Kenny Coplan, Djoume Traore and Owen King, junior oarsman Alex Abuhoff, sophomore oarsman Max Persch, and alumni rowers James Pew (class of 2015) and Kjel Schlemmer (class of 2017).

The Mounties won their first race July 4 against the Upper Thames Rowing Club. The next day, they beat London Rowing Club’s ‘B’ boat.

On July 6, they defeated one of the top-seeded teams, the Cork Boat Club from Ireland, in an upset victory. Montclair crossed the finish line three-quarters of a length ahead of Cork, with a time of 6:20, which was the fastest time for the four teams remaining in the competition for the Thames Challenge Cup.

By Saturday, July 7, of the 535 boats that came to Henley to compete, only 46 remained to race in the semifinals of the various events.

The Montclair varsity eight (seen above in a screenshot of a live stream of their race against Cork Boat Club) competed in the Henley Royal Regatta for the second year in a row, once again finishing high in the rankings.

The Montclair crew was the reported underdog to the Thames Rowing Club’s ‘A’ boat who, besides being older, larger and more experienced, had the home-field advantage and were the 2017 defending champions for the category.

The sportscaster announced that the Mounties ‘left nothing in their locker’ as they raced the 2000 meters, but could not catch the Thames crew.

“I am incredibly proud of their performance,” said Michalitsianos. “They showed great maturity and resilience to race in the event and showed their quality by going so far at the regatta. We were obviously disappointed to lose, but Thames Rowing Club were a fantastic crew and we always knew it would be very difficult to match them.”

There will be no rest for King and Abuhoff who have flown to Chula Vista, Calif., for the Under-19 selection camp for this year’s world championships.

All of the athletes from the boat will continue to train. Langhorn will cox for the University of Pennsylvania; stroke Vecchione will row for Princeton; Coplan will row as a Harvard heavyweight; King will row for UC-Berkeley; Traore will row for Temple; Pew will continue to row for Michigan; and Kjel Schlemmer will return to St. Joseph’s.

Finally, Abuhoff and Pursche will return to Montclair High School’s rowing team for the 2019 season, when they will be a senior and a junior, respectively.

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