Powerful Performance By Yorktown Girls

When the three Yorktown women’s crews headed for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America’s national championship regatta May 23, the weather was balmy. But as with so many of the team’s regattas this spring, the weather refused to cooperate—by the time the bus arrived at the Cooper River race course in Camden, NJ, the clouds had moved in and rain was coming down in sheets, turning the rigging area into a mud-filled trailer park. Still, after a short delay and a quick stop at the team hotel, the crews rigged their boats and completed a couple of practice rows down the course in preparation for Friday’s heats. Ominously, while the rain stopped, the winds began to pick up—a front was coming.

By Friday morning the front had moved through, the winds had changed direction and strengthened and the temperature had plummeted—instead of late May, it felt like late March on the race course. Despite the conditions, the two crews set to race in the morning—the freshman and junior 8s—were focused and ready to prove that they belonged.

With a stiff tail wind, the freshman girls rowed first and easily moved on to the Saturday semifinals out of lane 1. The Yorktown crew rowed a clean race and finished second in their heat to Saratoga Springs, the eventual national champion.

The J8 was up next and they faced even more daunting conditions, with the wind speed ratcheting up from 15 to 20 miles per hour and gusts reaching 30. Still, used to the spring’s rough water, the Yorktown women were ready. However, with a quick start and white caps forming, the crew caught an overhead crab five strokes into the race—the early outlook was bleak as the crew started open water down on the field. Showing tremendous perseverance and strong coxing, the juniors clawed their way back into the race. And by the end they had bulled their way into 2nd, overlapping with Oakcrest, the heat winner. The performance, which put them in the Saturday semifinals, was just what the crew needed—proof that they could compete with the best. 

With the team’s work done early on Friday, the crews came back to the hotel for lunch and proceeded to go see The Great Gatsby; a perfect plan for a cold, rainy day. After a fantastic dinner at P.J. Whelihan's where the girls danced and sang on stage, everyone went to bed early. The next day was a full one, with all three crews having a good chance of progressing to the finals. 

The March-like weather remained in place Saturday, with temperatures in the high 40s and winds still blowing at 20 mph or higher. The freshman girls were first up in semifinal number 2. Rowing against local rival TC Williams and perennial power Mouth St. Joseph, the girls were looking for a top three finish to advance to finals. The water conditions proved to be too difficult, however, and the freshman finished 5th in their semifinal. Still, they posted the 8th fastest time overall and showed that they will make a difference next year on the varsity squad.

The junior 8 was up next, with three to advance to the final. As with Friday, the water conditions had worsened as the morning wore on, getting so bad that crews were only allowed to launch from one side of the dock to avoid potential boat damage and rower injury. Nonetheless, the girls handled the conditions beautifully and had a fantastic race. With New Trier and Montclair in their semifinal, the girls thought they would be battling Radnor in lane 5 for the third spot. However, it turned out that the Lyman crew in lane 6 was closest to Yorktown as the boats neared the finish. The Yorktown ladies were not to be stopped, however, crossing the line in third just over a second ahead of the fourth place crew—the junior 8 was going to the grand final! 

The lightweight 8 had a tough start to their semifinal, with the wind literally blowing the boat out of their hands and into the water at the launch dock. No damage was done and the girls composed themselves well. The heat included Mount St. Joseph, Plant and McLean in a two-to-advance race as there were three semifinals. The girls knew Mount was fast, while Plant was an unknown. The Patriots history with McLean had been one of steady improvement: McLean had won by more than 20 seconds at States, but the margin had been sliced to just 5 seconds at the Stotesbury time trials. With that in mind, the girls went out to race McLean, and race they did. The Yorktown lightweights stood in third place behind the Mount and Plant with 10-15 strokes to go.  However, at the finish McLean had sprinted ahead for third, crossing about 1.5 seconds ahead of the determined Yorktown girls. While not in their heat, Yorktown’s improvement was demonstrated by its 15 second time victory over Woodbridge—a team that had beaten the YHS women at States earlier in the month. 

The weather continued to worsen and by the time the afternoon finals came around, race officials had cancelled the small boat races due to safety concerns. The winds now were coming out of the northwest and the cross tailwind and resulting whitecaps were actually slowing the races down despite the presence of stronger crews. Crabs also became a recurring problem, with one rower in the freshman 8 final being thrown from the boat.

Into this churning water, the Yorktown junior eight lined up in lane 1 looking to land on the medal stand. Shaker was in lane 2, with Montclair, Oakcrest, New Trier and Holy Spirit filling out the remaining lanes. With 500 meters to go the race was close, with only Shaker falling behind. As they found smoother water on the far side of the race course, New Trier and Holy Spirit began to pull away from Yorktown and the other crews. At the end, New Trier crossed first with Holy Spirit in second. The next three—Yorktown, Montclair and Oakcrest—battled to the end for third, with Oakcrest nabbing the last spot on the medal stand, Montclair (the Stotesbury champion) in fourth, and Yorktown in fifth, just 1.4 seconds back. 

It wasn’t a medal, but this was great way to end the season, three boats to semifinals, one to the grand final and lots of talent and potential for next season!

Complete results can be found here.