Yorktown Notches Hat Trick At Virginia State Championship

The Yorktown men’s junior 8, all sophomores, got the rescheduled Virginia state championship regatta off to a great start on May 22, earning a two-second victory in their race. The Patriot crew, which came into the race as the top seed, bested crews from West Springfield, Thomas Jefferson, Robinson and Woodson.

In a heartbreaker for the women's side of the Yorktown program, the women's first varsity 8 was edged out of a bronze medal by TC Williams by 2/10ths of a second and wound up 4th in the premier women's event, which was won by Robinson. National Cathedral of Washington, DC, was second. The women's 1V category was incredibly deep this year with any of five crews able to win on any given weekend. Our women's varsity 8 rowed a tremendous race and came within inches of a repeat medal performance, having won silver last year. Coming by the grandstand there were only inches separating the bowballs of McLean, TC and YHS. Nationals will be another chance for the Patriot women to strike back at their local rivals.

When the Yorktown men's first varsity 8 went to the starting line, it is safe to say the boat’s five seniors and sophomore stroke man Ben Vihstadt probably felt a little pressure. The seniors were returning gold medalists from 2009, and the team’s third eight and J8 already had nailed down gold in 2010. All that was left for the first-ever Yorktown "hat trick" was for the first varsity to bring home a third medal. But three big things stood in their way: Also lined up in the grand final of the men's first 8 were crews from St. Albans and Thomas Jefferson, both Stotesbury Cup finalists in Philadelphia the week before, St. Albans having won the silver medal in the prestigious and highly competitive national event. Both St. Albans and TJ had beaten the crew from Yorktown by more than 10 seconds at various points during the season. Also lurking in one of the outside lanes was the crew from traditional powerhouse Washington-Lee. The Generals had been waiting all season for a chance to show their best speed versus their cross-town rivals and displace the Patriots on the medal dock at season's end.

For the five Yorktown seniors, Peter Bacas, Chris Brown, Steve Cauffman, Dan Rozynski and Leon Suvak, this last race of the 2010 Virginia season and the last of their Yorktown careers was going to be a test of resolve in the face of extremely high team expectations bumping up against a much stronger field of opponents than the prior year. They knew they had to find a way to race "above their past level.”

Based on prior results, no one would have predicted the outcome of this last race of the season at Sandy Run. The St. Albans and TJ crews seemed in a class well above the rest of the field, including last year's defending champs from Yorktown, and most knowing race fans would have expected an easy St Albans win, with perhaps a challenge from TJ, but that was about it. At best, the thinking was, Yorktown would fight it out with W-L for a distant third.

With a slight tail wind blowing, the six grand finalists lined up for the start at about 2 PM. Ranging across the water from left to right were the crews from Westfield, Yorktown, St Albans, TJ, Woodson and W-L.

Using a new five stroke starting sequence, the Patriot 8 rocketed off the stake boat at more than 40 strokes a minute and surged into the lead. By about 350 meters, the Patriot lead had grown to about 3/4 of a boat length. The lead dwindled over the next 350 meters, and by 750 meters or about half way to the finish of the 1500 meter course, all three of the top crews were even, with Washington-Lee beginning to fall behind. Coming into the last 500 meters by the packed grandstands St Albans had pushed into a very slight lead, with TJ and Yorktown less than a deck back.  At the finish it was, as expected, St Albans, with TJ only a second back and Yorktown another 1.5 seconds back on TJ, with W-L 4 seconds behind the leaders. This was the closest men's 1V finish in more than 10 years of state championship racing. 

Though only a bronze medal, the Patriots had their hat trick, a new first in the 42-year-old program's history and a sense of pride in knowing they had come within seconds of the greatest upset of the season, if not the decade.

In the three weeks since coach Andy Bacas installed sophomore Ben Vihstadt in the stroke seat of the Yorktown first 8, the crew has made up more than 10 seconds on its regional competition and goes into the SRAA Nationals Regatta next week with legitimate hopes of making the grand final of six crews at the high school national championship. Along with St Albans and TJ, the DC-area contingent of men's crews will be one of the strongest of the last 10 years.

"I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of these kids today," commented head coach Andy Bacas, "the ground and time they made up this week was unbelievable. They rose to a huge challenge and really went for it. If we can keep this sort of speed up next week, we can be real contenders at Nationals."

2010 YHS junior 8 medal at VASRA States

Yorktown’s junior 8, pictured left to right:  Coach Bacas, Erik Auer, Keating Walsh, Ryan Carroll, Jaime Ranfone, Paul Schneider, Josh Doyon, JP Wright, Andrew Knizner and Aaron Rosen.