GROSSE POINTE — It didn’t seem likely at the beginning, but the men’s lightweight eight team representing the Detroit Boat Club Crew took third place at the US Rowing Youth National Championship this past June in Sacramento, California.
The weekend of competition didn’t begin promising for the crew made up largely of students from Grosse Pointe schools.
In its preliminary heat, the crew started fast but faded into third place, which meant it would have to race twice on the second day for a chance at the finals.
The crew’s fortunes reversed quickly, however, as it won the repechage event to begin the second day.
While most would expect the team to be tired from racing earlier in the day, not having to weigh in prior to the semifinal round would give the Detroit crew an advantage for its second race.
The crew teams that automatically qualified for the semifinals had to weigh in two hours prior to the race, while the Detroit crew only had to weigh in before the repechage race at the start of the day, allowing them to eat and recharge for the second race without worrying about making weight a second time.
“It’s a tremendous advantage,” crew coach Dick Bell said. “They said they’ll waive the two-hour rule so we didn’t have to double weigh-in, and that helped a lot.”
Refueled and re-energized, the crew managed a third-place finish in the semifinal to qualify for the next day’s Class A final.
In the final, the crew used a different strategy from its preliminary round to take third place overall.
“We started way back, dead last,” said Andrew Kelly, who is now a junior. “Our coxswain accidentally called our sprint with 750 meters left in a 2,000 meter race, so we went from last place to third, past all these boats. It was a good feeling to pass the boats. It keeps you energized and keeps you going.”
While the boys team improved its standing throughout the weekend, the girls contingent from the Detroit Boat Club Crew was also finding success at nationals.
Claire Platt and Isabella Strickler took fourth in the double event, and the women’s lightweight eight team took 13th overall by winning the Class C final.
The lightweight eight team featured four freshman and one eighth- grader, so senior Gianna Manchester knew that getting experience at the nationals for the young team will bode well for future seasons.
“Since we were a pretty young boat, and it was our first time racing at nationals, we mostly took it as a learning experience. And out of our three races, I felt like we improved a lot from race to race,” Manchester said. “I definitely think we have the potential to go even further and place higher next year.”
Gabriela Tucker, the lone graduating senior on the girls lightweight eight team, was equally excited about how this year’s performance can be used as a springboard for the future.
“Even though it was a 13th-place finish, you could tell every single race that we were improving. Every day when we got off the water, you could tell that everyone tried as hard as they could. We were a young crew, so if you can make it to nationals and win C final, just imagine what they’ll be in four years.”
The day of the final races at the national championship marked the two-month anniversary of the first time the crews were able to row on the Detroit River near its boathouse on Belle Isle.
Due to the boathouse’s location downstream from Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair, the crews had to wait for the river to thaw before allowing ice chunks from the lakes to travel through the waterway.
Although the men’s crew said that lack of training time on the water may have hindered the starts of their races, conditioning was not a factor.
“The crews from California had six times the amount of water time than we did going up to that, so they went off the line at a significantly higher stroke rating than we did,” Raymond Mattingly said. “The start in a sprint race is very precise. It’s not really even about strength at that point. It’s about technique, precision and finesse.”
To make up for that disadvantage, the crews trained throughout the winter on rowing machines in a renovated room inside the Belle Isle boathouse, which has been home for the crew program since 1902.
“Those machines, we’ve been on every day for a long period every afternoon throughout the entire winter,” senior Michael Landuyt said. “Very few teams are on those as much as we are, which is great for them, but that helped us a lot in getting stronger, which definitely came through for the last 1,000 meters.”
This was the 18th consecutive season in which the Detroit Boat Club Crew has been represented at the US Youth National Rowing Championships.
Racing for the women’s light eight team were Tucker (South, 2014), Manchester (South, 2015), Faith Volpe (North, 2017), Katie Konieczny (Pierce, eighth grade), Lee Sullivan (South, 2017), Erin Ptashnik (South, 2017), Kara Semanision (South, 2017), Emily Truss (North, 2016) and coxswain Makenzie Smith (Cranbrook, 2016).
The men’s team featured Kelly (home school, 2016), Landuyt (South, 2015), Mattingly (North, 2015) Sean Nemeh (South, 2016), Matt Dimond (South, 2015), Sorin Koszyk (South, 2016), Dylan Goitz (Liggett, 2014), Christian Nemeh (South, 2015), and coxswain Rob Robson (South, 2016).