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Girls win silver, boys snag bronze in national crew competitions in Tennessee
Rowing in stifling 93-degree heat and humidity, Vashon Island Junior Crew earned a team record of six medals at the USRowing Youth National Championships on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn., last weekend.
The women’s varsity quad, with Emily Kehoe, Alaina Williams, Mia Croonquist and Avalon Koenig, finished second in the nation after rowing the 2,000-meter final in 7:04, just 2.5 seconds behind GMS Rowing of New Milford, Conn.
The silver-medal showing was easily the best finish ever for a Pacific Northwest women’s quad in the history of Junior National competition. Previously, no women’s quad from the region had finished higher than seventh place.
“Going up against an elite racing club that is led by the Junior National team coach was the ultimate test,” said Vashon coach Steve Full. “Our girls put their hearts and souls into the race and gave GMS quite a scare. They just had a little more juice than we did for the final 10 strokes. On any other day it could very well have been a different story.”
Bringing home bronze medals for Vashon was the men’s lightweight double with Ryan Bingham and Tim Hanson. They saved their best for last in the Sunday final with a time of 7:08, finishing third behind Seattle Rowing Center and Saint Andrew Rowing of Atlanta, creating another proud moment for the region with two Pacific Northwest crews finishing in the top three.
“We changed the race plan a bit for the pair, pushing the speed early to create space between us and the rest of the pack,” Full said. “In the end, our fitness paid off, and the guys made a great effort for the gold.”
Vashon’s women’s youth pair, featuring Katelyn Carter and Erika Odmark, took 12th in the nation by advancing through their heat with a third-place finish, before finishing sixth in the B final.
Also getting their first taste of Nationals rowing was Vashon’s women’s youth four, with Halimah Griffin, Ella McConnell, Charlotte Kehoe, Tera Jane Ripley and coxswain Sarah Warner. They took fourth in their first heat and were then eliminated the next day with a third-place showing in the repechage stage of the competition.
“Getting to row at Nationals is a tremendous honor,” said Full. “The extra rowing and the experience alone has made these girls 10 times the rowers they were a few weeks ago. As a young team we have so much room to grow, and I am super proud of their effort this weekend.”
Next season, Vashon’s junior rowing program will lose only three graduating seniors. For bronze medal-winning senior Hanson, rowing in the intense Tennessee heat was a unique mental challenge.
“You just trust your fitness and race plan,” Hanson said. “The heat and humidity does not decide who wins and loses. It’s the training you put in that prepares you for high-pressure moments.”
Williams also concluded her high school rowing career with her silver medal-winning performance on Sunday.
“It was great to see the hard work of the entire team pay off,” Williams said. “Steve pushes us; we push ourselves, and as a group we became great.”
Senior coxswain Olivia Sayvetz, who qualified for Nationals, was faced with a tough choice last weekend, but ultimately decided to forego competing so that she could deliver the valedictory address at Vashon High School’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.
The US Rowing Youth National Championships brings together more than 1,500 athletes from rowing programs across the country, competing for national titles in 18 rowing categories. Most of the junior programs that sent rowers to Nationals were many times larger than Vashon’s program, making the accomplishments by Vashon Island Junior Crew all the more extraordinary.
— Jeff Hoyt is a member of the Vashon Island Rowing Club.