BY ANDREW GARDA
This past weekend, the Montclair High School rowing teams competed at USRowing’s 2021 Youth National Regatta. Held from June 10 to 13 in Sarasota, Florida, the competition is known for having the best crew teams from across the country and is one of the most fiercely competitive regattas each year.
In 2021, it was also the largest regatta of its kind, as the organization ran an open entry process that allowed for any difficulties teams might have at making the usual qualifications due to COVID-19.
Unfortunately, it was rough rowing for the Mounties over the weekend. The unbeaten girls Varsity 4 had an injury onboard that impacted their time and forced them out of the top two groups — A and B — and into group D. They did win the D final, and according to head coach Jeremy Michalitsianos, they were able to come close to the speed and time they normally would achieve.
The boys Varsity 4 finished 11th overall in a field of 50 boats.
“We hoped they would make the Grand Final [the top 6] but just missed out in the A/B semi, finishing fourth, which put them into the B final,” Michalitsianos said. “The result is solid, and they should be proud of their achievement.”
The boys Varsity 8 finished 23rd out of 37 entries in the Under 19 8s, while the girls U19 didn’t qualify out of their time trial. On a positive note, the girls U19 have two returning rowers next year, while the boys were winners of the JV 8s at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, normally the biggest high school regatta of the year.
“They are a young crew, with all of them able to race again next year, so we hope to make the step up in the next 12 months,” Michalitsianos said.
While the results weren’t what the teams aimed for when they flew south, the event capped off another tremendous year for MHS rowing.
The girls Varsity 4 were unbeaten in school races this past year, and were winners at both Stotesbury and the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Nationals. The Youth National Regatta was the first loss they suffered all season.
The effort on the girls side was even more impressive, as the team had fewer members than it normally does. Lorna Rundle, who manages the girls side of things, had lost some rowers to concerns about COVID-19.
“I think Lorna had 12 girls that had raced before,” Michalitsianos said. “She has about eight girls who had joined the team last year, but didn’t get to race. And then she had freshmen.”
Overall, Michalitsianos felt the team had a great season, with a lot of special moments along the way.
“[At Stotesbury] we managed to win three events, and we got silver in another event,” he said. “We’ve never won more than three events [there], and to win any event there is very difficult.”
Along with the girls Varsity 4, which took gold there, the girls JV 4 and the boys JV 8 took first places, with the boys Varsity 4 taking fourth.
Montclair’s success is surprising for many people who follow the sport, as public schools do not normally have this type of sustained accomplishment. Facing a multitude of private and Catholic schools with more money and sometimes support is a difficult task, and one that MHS has been very good at in the last several years.
That success comes because of the dedication of the athletes, and they remained dedicated last spring, over the summer and into the fall despite the pandemic.
“Last year we managed to get two weeks on the water and then we were shut down. And so obviously no races, because the first race was going to be at the end of March,” the coach said. “And then we had most of the summer completely away from the kids. We managed to kind of go out in very small groups, through late summer and into the fall. The team trained not knowing if there would even be any championship races this spring. Their motivation was amazing considering they could be training up to 10 times a week for nothing.”
All of which was voluntary, but the kids showed up. They worked out and lifted weights or used rowing machines on their own when they couldn’t be with teammates.
In the fall, the team established a set of COVID-19 protocols to protect the athletes while they were on the water.
“What we did in the fall was just keep the kids in these kinds of bubbles, groups of kids that we never ever switched them over [to other bubbles],” Michalitsianos said. “So if there was a problem with COVID, we could identify which boat they’d been out in and they would stay in that group. So there were maybe eight in each group. So that works really well.”
Luckily, crew team members had no positive tests, so they didn’t need to put their plan to the test, but if they needed to, they were ready.
With so many colleges remote, the team saw former MHS rowers come back and visit. The rowing community at the school is a tight one, and the current students and families always keep track of what the team’s alumni do in college.
Former Mounties often see success at the collegiate level.
This past spring former MHS rower Beate Kaz stroked the 1 Varsity for Brown University, which was ranked 17th and finished eighth in the NCAA championships, while Juliet Traylor was in the 8 boat for SMU in its first-ever appearance at the NCAA championships. SMU finished 11th. Former Mounties rower Jordan Craig rowed for Wesleyan and finally, Kathleen King rowed for Bates, which won the Division 3 championship.
Some former Mountie boys made the Intercollegiate Rowing Championships this spring as well.
Henry Vecchione rowed for Princeton, while Alex Abuhoff competed for Northeastern. Even a former coxswain — the person who is responsible for steering the boat and coordinating the rhythm of the rowers — was competing this spring, as Julianna Langhorn called cadence for the University of Pennsylvania.