PNRA/Mercer varsity eight-plus coxswain crew

The PNRA/Mercer varsity eight-plus coxswain crew competed at USRowing Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships held recently at Mercer Lake in West Windsor. Pictured, from left: coxswain Kate Takacs, Newtown resident Jack Gallagher, Daniel Stoddard, Chris Silva, Carter Levine, Eli Kalfaian, Yardley resident Andrew Hickey  Rex Berger and Leon Deng.

West Windsor, NJ – In spite of torrential rain on Saturday and associated changes to the racing schedule mandated by USRowing officials, the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club earned six bids to the 2017 USRowing Youth National Championships by winning medals at the Mid-Atlantic Youth Championships.

PNRA/Mercer boats have been invited to compete in the women’s youth eight with coxswain (8-plus), the men’s youth 8-plus, the women’s youth lightweight 8-plus, the men’s youth lightweight four with coxswain (4-plus), and two crews in the men’s pair without coxswain events at the National Championships taking place at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida, on June 9-11.

Sending six boats to compete in the USRowing Youth National Championships would be a high-water mark for the club, which is led by Justin Ochal in his second year as Mercer Program Director and third year as Boys’ Varsity Coach.

Hosted by PNRA, the Mid-Atlantic Youth Regional Championships took place on Mercer Lake in West Windsor the weekend of May 13-14 and featured crews from 42 clubs and schools based in five states and the District of Columbia. It is one of 12 USRowing regional qualifying regattas held this month leading up to the national championship regatta for high school-aged crews.

Weather conditions on Saturday, May 13 resulted in a decision by race officials to utilize a single time trial in qualifying events to determine invitations to the Youth National Championships, rather than the usual two-day progression of heats, semifinals and finals. In a time trial, each boat is sent out at a regular interval and races against the clock to secure the fastest time. The crews with the three fastest times in each event with more than three entries were awarded medals.

PNRA/Mercer placed first in the women’s youth eight plus coxswain event by a wide margin, despite the challenging circumstances. “Time trials can be difficult because no crews are around you to help you measure how you are doing,” said Princeton Day School senior captain Celia Varga.

“The weather conditions were not optimal,” said senior co-captain Laila Shehab (Hunterdon Valley Central). “But experiences like that are going to make you a better rower, technically and mentally.”

“We couldn’t worry about things beyond our control. We had to lay it all on the line, listen to our coxswain, and row our own race,” added Varga. The boat was coxed by senior Caroline Galati (West Windsor-Plainsboro South) and in addition to Varga and Shehab, included junior Katryna Niva (Hunterdon Valley Central ), junior Emmanuelle Adamson (Princeton High School), senior Katie Lustig and junior Kieran Wild (both from Council Rock North ), as well as juniors Mia Barkenbush and Sara Hansen (both from West Windsor-Plainsboro South).

PNRA/Mercer’s men’s youth 8-plus crew experienced an odd turn of events related to its time trial. When results were posted initially, PNRA/Mercer was announced as the first-place boat. Later, after individual judges’ stop watches were re-evaluated, Gonzaga High School was listed with a time of 6:30.08, just ahead of PNRA/Mercer’s 6:30.29. Both crews received bids to the Youth National Championships where they are likely to compete against each other once again. The PNRA/Mercer men’s youth 8-plus crew includes sophomore Jack Gallagher (Council Rock North), co-captain senior Daniel Stoddard (West Windsor Plainsboro South), senior Chris Silva (Hopewell Valley Central), junior Eli Kalfaian (Delaware Valley Regional), co-captain senior Andrew Hickey (Notre Dame), co-captain senior Carter Levine and freshman Leon Deng (both from Princeton), senior Rex Berger (The Hun School), and coxswain senior Kate Takacs (Princeton Day School).

The other medal-winning boys’ crews were the lightweight 4-plus which included sophomore Alex Brodowski (Pennsbury), senior Enzo Couillens (Hopewell Valley Central ), sophomore Brady Stergion (Notre Dame), senior Tyler Harris (West Windsor-Plainsboro  North) and coxswain Sarah Brune (Lanoka Harbor, NJ), one pair consisting of junior Andrew Moss and junior Dana Gajewski (both from Princeton ) and one pair consisting of junior Evan Kinter (Steinhert ) and senior Lachlan Mersky (Haddonfield ).

“We’re taking twice as many guys to Nationals this year, in three different boat classes. It shows how everyone – from the veteran seniors to the underclassmen– is stepping up to make this a big year for Mercer,” commented co-captain Andrew Hickey.

The other nationals-qualifying boat is PNRA/Mercer’s lightweight 8-plus coxswain with the crew of senior Sheila Kennedy-Moore (Princeton), junior Maheera Bawa (Montgomery), sophomore Jacqueline Armetta (Villa Joseph Marie), junior Taylor Vierling (Northern Burlington), sophomore Caitie Vinch-Buck (The Pennington School), freshman Eveline Enthoven (Princeton), sophomore Chloe Couillens (Hopewell Valley Central), junior Julia Berdzik and coxswain junior Lauren Preston (both from Notre Dame).

Co-captain Laila Shehab commented on the culture that first-year coach girls’ coach Matt Carlsen has fostered on the team. “A lot of the girls have learned to push themselves farther than they thought they could. Coach Matt always says, ‘It’s never enough’. He can joke and have fun, but he’s no nonsense when it comes to racing. We’re always racing each other at practice. We push each other. The lightweight 8-plus pushes the varsity 8-plus. They are little beasts. I’m so excited for them to compete at Youth Nationals and have their first experience competing at that level. It’s such good racing and then they will bring that knowledge back to the club.”

Several of the successful PNRA/Mercer rowers hail from Bucks County, including Yardley residents, Andrew Hickey, Brady Stergion, and Alex Brodowski as well as Newtown residents, Katie Lustig, Kieran Wild, Jack Gallagher, Jacqueline Armetta, and Lauren Preston.

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