Yorktown Boys Row Into Finals at SRAA Nationals

Over two long, hot days at the Cooper River race course in Camden, NJ, the Yorktown men’s 1V and 2V eights battled through successive rounds of elimination races and into the finals—and by the time they were done they were the only Virginia crews left on the men’s side.

The second varsity 8’s appearance in the grand finals at Nationals was the first final six finish for Yorktown in this category ever, and indicates a growing depth of talent in the men’s program. Since 2008, the men's 1V has made the top 12 each year (except for the scratch year of 2011), with finishes of twelfth, tenth, sixth and twelfth, respectively. Though seemingly modest within the broader SRAA field of 36 first varsity boats, Yorktown has consistently clawed its way ahead of almost all of its VASRA competition. Looking just at VASRA, since 2007 Yorktown's Nationals finishes have been second (to Thomas Jefferson) in 2007, second (to T.J.) in 2008, third (to T.J. and St. Albans in 2009, second (to St. Albans) in 2010 and second (to St. Albans) again in 2012. After a long season of racing, "medaling" (at least psychologically) within our region in the toughest categories is something to be proud of.

The programs that finish ahead of Yorktown at Nationals on the men’s side tend to be private schools. In the men's 2V grand final this year, for example, Yorktown was the only public school. In the men's top 12 in the 1V, the only public schools to make it were BCC and Yorktown, both in the petite final.

This was not the case on the women's side, where four of the six crews in the 1V grand final were from public schools.

The racing on Friday, May 25, began with the heats of the men's freshman eights. The Nationals field of freshman eights is very, very tough, with regional champions from Florida, the Midwest, New York, and Philadelphia filling the heats with big, athletic crews. Consequently, even though this year’s Yorktown crew was one of the school’s best in decades they could not break into the top three, finishing fifth behind crews from St Joseph's in Philadelphia, Belen Jesuit from Miami, Manhasset High School from New York and St. Ignatius from Ohio. It was a tough heat in a tough category, and though the Yorktown freshmen had beaten Manhasset at Stotes, on this day they couldn’t, and their Nationals run ended on the first day, 19 seconds behind St. Joe’s, but only 4.7 seconds short of qualifying for the next round.

In the women’s second eight, Yorktown drew an especially tough heat and lane 1 assignment. Our 2V women put up a strong effort, but were overmatched by a field that included BCC, Winter Park and Plant from Florida, Oak Crest of NJ, and Mount St Joseph's of Philadelphia. YHS finished sixth after some equipment issues in the last 300 meters. 

In the men’s second eight, things went a bit better. YHS drew lane 2, with W-L in lane 1 and number one seeded Gonzaga over in lane 3. Using their season-long rivalry as a springboard, both the YHS and W-L crews rowed into the semifinal round, with the Yorktown eight finishing second to Gonzaga, ahead of W-L and solid crews from Canisius in Buffalo, St Augustine in NJ and Virginia’s Westfield.

In the women's 1V8 heat, the Patriot varsity qualified for the repechage (or second chance heat), coming in fourth behind Madison, Lake Brantley of Florida and Ann Arbor of Michigan, but well ahead of Tampa-based Plant HS. Though 18 seconds off Madison's leading pace, the Patriot women knew they would have a good chance in the reps and they made the most of it. Stationed in lane 1, the YHS 1V had one of its best rows of the year, powering away from the field to win their rep and advance to the semifinals on Saturday. The Patriot women finished in a time of 5:07.7, ahead of Absegami from NJ, T.C. Williams, New York’s Shenendehowa HS, Oakton and Robinson. All told, five VASRA schools—National Cathedral, Madison, YHS, T.C. Williams and T.J.—and Maryland’s BCC survived to race in Saturday’s semifinal round.

The first day of racing for the men's 1V was one close, tough race followed by another. In the heats, YHS drew lane 2, and was matched up with Burnt Hills (NY) in lane 1, St. Augustine in 3, Canisius in 4, Westfield in 5 and Bay Shore in 6. After a good start that got them the lead, YHS fought hard to hold onto one of the top two places, but both St. Augustine and Westfield rowed through the Patriots, leaving YHS in third, four seconds out of an automatic trip to the semis.

Again in lane 2 for its repechage heat, and with Fordham Prep in lane 1 and not a factor, YHS locked on to a brutal fight for the lead with New York’s Chaminade and Winter Park in lanes 4 and 3 respectively. In lane 6, Arlington rival W-L stayed in the race to the halfway point, but was left open water back as the leaders found a new gear and pushed out over the last 750. Oak Crest in lane 5 also was not a factor in the race. In the end it was a photo finish with all three of the lead crews within 0.3 seconds of one another at 4:28.7 to 4:29.0 with Chaminade first, YHS next and Winter Park in third. This race, which put the YHS 1V in Saturday’s semis, was also a sweet comeback win over W-L after being edged out of the medals by the Generals at States on May 12.

The men's 2V started the big Saturday push for the final six with its best row of the season in the semifinals. Rowing again in Lane 2, YHS was matched up with Holy Spirit of NJ in lane 1, Chaminade in lane 3, Illinois’ Loyola Academy in lane 4, W-L in lane 5 and Absegami in lane 6. Riding a good tailwind, the Patriots pushed into the lead pack of four at halfway, leaving the Generals and Absegami behind. In an incredible dog fight for the precious three spots to advance, the Patriot 2V got their nose ahead of both Loyola and Holy Spirit and held on for second place, just 1.5 seconds behind semi-winner Chaminade, with third and fourth in a photo finish to see which crew would advance (Loyola got the nod). THE PATRIOT 2V HAD DONE IT—THEY WERE HEADING TO THE FINAL SIX AND A SHOT AT A MEDAL.

Next up, the women's 1V, who unfortunately hit the wall in their semifinal. In a field that included local Philly/NJ powerhouse programs, Mount St. Joseph and Holy Spirit, along with New York state champ Saratoga, Midwest power Loyola and Florida champ Lake Brantley, the Patriots got left a bit at the start and could never really claw back into the race, finishing in sixth and ending their bid to make finals for the third straight year. The women finished in a time of 5:16 and along with BCC, Bishop Eustace, Lake Brantley, Ann Arbor, and Absegami were finished for the season. 

The men’s 1V ended up in the third semifinal, matched against heat winners St. Albans in lane 3 and McCallie of Tennessee in lane 4. Heat runners-up Central Catholic from Pittsburgh and Loyola were in lanes 2 and 5, respectively, while rep qualifiers Yorktown and Winter Park took their places in lanes 1 and 6. The top two finishers would go to the grand final, with the next two to the petite final, and the final two headed home.

By the halfway point, the heat had become two races. St. Albans had pushed out to a slight lead over McCallie and Central Catholic, with both trailing crews neck and neck for second place. A length-plus back, YHS, Loyola, and Winter Park were locked in an across-the-race course battle for the last spot to advance. Trailing the field for much of the race, the Patriot men mounted their now familiar last-ditch sprint over the last 400 meters and caught both Loyola and Winter Park, edging them out by 1 and 2 seats respectively to earn the last place in the petite final, but six seconds back to McCallie, which was edged out by Central Catholic by one seat for second place. It was another GREAT race, "won" in the last 10 strokes, and the Patriot 1V survived for one more race. 

With temperatures pushing toward 90, the two surviving YHS crews each headed out for a second time on Saturday to face their toughest tests yet.

With dreams of a Nationals medal in mind, the YHS 2V headed for the now familiar lane 2 one more time. A big crew from Central Catholic sat in lane 1, favorite Gonzaga was in lane 3, Chaminade in lane 4, La Salle of Philly in lane 5, and Loyola in lane 6. With heat and fatigue weighing on all the crews, the psychology of the moment played a key role in the outcome of the race. Unfortunately for the Patriot 2V, they were sandwiched between the two fastest crews and had to suffer the "trailers walk" as both Gonzaga and Central slowly slipped away. Loyola, buoyed by passing a weak LaSalle crew in Lane 5, hung with Chaminade, which had watched Gonzaga pass them as well, and in the end Loyola edged past both Chaminade and YHS to take the bronze medal, with Central in second and Gonzaga pulling down the gold. Finishing times were Gonzaga 4:30.7, Central 4:32.0, Loyola 4:35.1, Chaminade 4:35.6, YHS 4:39.6, and La Salle 4:43.0. The YHS 2V had acquitted itself well and capped off the greatest 2V season in the program's history with a courageous run to the finals, taking on five private schools and being in the medal hunt to the very end. A great, great season!

Much as in 2010, the men's 1V of 2012 had outperformed its seed, had raced incredibly hard, and scrapped and clawed its way into "one more race"—landing in the petite final to decide places 6-12. In 2010, the Patriot first 8 had shocked just about everyone coming out of reps to the semis and finishing a strong second to eventual Nationals winner St. Joe’s and making the grand final. The crew of 2010 felt good about being in the last race of the day with the likes of St. Joe’s, Central Catholic, Winter Park, St. Albans and Chaminade, but in a "be careful what you wish for because you may get it" moment, the grand final of 2010 proved too much for the boys from Yorktown and they finished in sixth place. So it was again in the petites in 2012.

McCallie had proven its speed in the semifinals, falling just short of Central Catholic for second and only two seconds behind St. Albans. St. Ignatius had bested Chaminade by two seconds in the semis and BCC had won its rep and was a strong third in its semi. YHS had rowed Chaminade to a dead heat in the Friday rep, and had been reasonably close to St. Augustine in the heats but had not beaten them. Lining up in lane 6, the Patriots never got going against a solid Chaminade crew in lane 5 and faded in the wind-shaded lane and never challenged. Its Cinderella run at Nationals ended in another sixth place finish. The petite order of finish was: McCallie at 4:22.8, St Ignatius at 4:25.8, BCC at 4:26.0, Chaminade 4:27.6, St. Augustine at 4:28.1, and YHS at 4:33.9. It is small consolation, but out of these six crews, YHS is the only spring-only program. The crew that Coach Andy Bacas had dubbed the "short and the skinny" had achieved their goals for the regatta, running down W-L and TJ, two crews that had bested them at States, and by doing so put the YHS crew back at the top of the Virginia heap as they were in 2010. 

In a fabulous grand final in the men's 1V, it was Gonzaga completing its immaculate USA season winning in a blistering 4:18.2, followed by an improved St. Albans crew in 4:19.4 for silver, Ridley of Canada in 4:19.6 for bronze, St Joe’s close in fourth at 4:20.8, with Central Catholic and LaSalle trailing at 4:25.

A shout out also goes to St. Alban's sister school, National Cathedral for pulling out the most amazing sprint over Saratoga, Mount Saint Joseph, and Madison in the women's 1V to bring home the gold! 

The team returned home to learn that Ben Vihstadt had been selected as a first team All-Met by the Washington Post.

In sum, five YHS crews travelled to Nationals, three made the semifinals, one made the petites, and one made the grand final. A small improvement over 2010 and 2011, but progress nonetheless, and thus another "never been done before" achievement for the program. 

"It’s a very tough and unforgiving sport at the high end, the margins of victory or defeat are often very small, but our steady march toward the higher ranks of our sport has continued this year," Coach Bacas commented. "The amount of work that goes into the months of training and preparation by the athletes, the logistical support of the boosters and all the other infrastructure work that keeps this program going is amazing to me every year. It all adds up to those few seconds we keep shaving off year after year. We need to keep celebrating that progress, but keep trying to improve. Everyone should be very proud of what was accomplished in 2012, I know I am. The dream of a Stotes or Nationals medal in one of the big boats and a trip to Henley will have to wait for another year."

--Full results can be found at https://www.sraa.net/results/