Yorktown Makes Big Statement at SRAA Nationals

Yorktown’s crew team  came up big at this year’s Scholastic Rowing Association of America national championship regatta, held May 28-29 on the Fish Creek race course in Saratoga Springs, NY: Both first varsity boats finished in the Top 10—the best combined men's and women's performance in the team’s history.

Both crews had to row twice on the Friday of qualifying as each crew missed the direct advance to the semifinals earned by finishing first or second in the first round heats. The two YHS crews rowed well, but finished third. Moving on to the repechage, or "second chance" qualifying race, the two crews found another gear, with both winning their reps in very exciting racing.

Saturday morning dawned sunny and hot, but with a nice quartering head wind blowing left to right over the race course. The YHS crews drew lane 1, a great place to be on this particular day, as it proved to be the sheltered lane. In a tight and closely fought race, the Patriot women qualified for the petite final with a close third place finish behind crews from New Trier HS (Illinois) and Winter Park (Florida), but perhaps more satisfying was the YHS women’s strong four-second margin over local rival National Cathedral, a crew that had beaten the Patriot women at Stotesbury.

In the men's semifinal the stage was set for a "redo" of 2009’s "near miss,” where Yorktown missed out on a trip to the grand final by less than one second, finishing third behind St. Joes and St. Augustine. But 2010 was a new year and the YHS men's 1V was a new crew. St. Joes, the undefeated Stotesbury champ, was in their semifinal again this year, along with Thomas Jefferson, VASRA silver medalist and Stotesbury finalist, New Trier HS, Mainland Regional HS (NJ) and Ocean City (NJ). The Patriot men had not beaten TJ all season, having lost by more than 10 seconds in April, but they had closed the gap on their local rival each week thereafter, finishing five seconds back at Stotesbury and only 1.5 seconds back at the VASRA championships. They would have to find a way to best the Colonial 8 if they were to make it into the "Big Dance"—the final six.

With sophomore stroke man Ben Vihstadt leading the crew off the line with a solid start, the Patriot 8 hung with the pack through the first 500 meters, but started inching past Ocean City in lane 2 shortly thereafter and by halfway it was clear this was going to be a three boat race with TJ and YHS following a powerful St. Joes crew away from the rest of the pack. At 500 to go, the YHS men had established a small lead over TJ and headed for the line in second place a length or so down to St. Joes. When sophomore coxswain Wade Oakley made the call for the final sprint, with about 350 meters to go, the men found a higher gear and at 40+ strokes a minute began a powerful move on both TJ and St. Joes. Over the last 30 strokes the Patriot 1V moved out to a 4+ second margin on TJ and closed to finish within a length of St. Joes, a crew that had beaten the Patriots by 15+ seconds just two weeks before. The journey from the repechage to the grand final was complete—Yorktown would have a first 8 in the grand final at Nationals for the first time since 2002.

The big Saturday was not over, with the Patriot 1V women lining up against local rivals Robinson, National Cathedral, and McLean, along with NJ crews Ocean City and Mainland in the petite final of the women's varsity 8. (No DC crews made the women's final six this year.) The YHS women knew that their journey, from non-qualifier in 2008 to Nationals finalist in 2010, would not be complete without a strong final row—and that is exactly what they served up. Rowing with passion and precision, the YHS varsity women put it all together in their final row of the season, powering their way to a thrilling second place finish, only 3.4 seconds behind VASRA champ Robinson, and ahead of National Cathedral and McLean, leaving the 2010 1V women able to claim a second "silver" level performance to follow up on their silver medal finish at the VASRA championship in 2009.

The men's 1V grand final was a bit of an anti-climax after the women's great race. The YHS men occupied lane 5 in a final made up of undefeated Stotes champ St. Joes, Midwest champ Central Catholic (Pittsburgh), Florida champ Winter Park, Stotes silver medalist and VASRA champ St. Albans, and New York state champ Chaminade. Not bad company for the Patriot 1V of 2010, but a bit too much to handle, as that is the order they all finished. YHS rowed hard, but the men came in last, 11 seconds behind the blistering pace set by winner St. Joes.

In summary, the two Patriot varsities finished 6th and 8th overall, the top DC-area public school combined finish in 2010, with the men ending up as the only spring-only public school in the grand final. Only year-round Winter Park, a school of approximately 4,000 students, bested this year's Patriot men's varsity among the nation's public school programs.

A year of courage, perseverance and pride ended on a satisfying note for all concerned. Another "things that have never been done before" season! Congratulations to all who helped make it happen!