On Sunday the Vashon Island Junior crew traveled to Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor for the third annual Tri-Island Regatta, which traditionally pits teams from three islands — Vashon, Bainbridge and Orcas — against each other. This year, Olympia’s team substituted for Orcas Island. Vashon rowers took first place in nine of the 15 races and added second-place finishes in four more on the 1,400-meter course.
As is the case in many rowing events, the unsung cohorts of the day were the coxswains — crouched teammates who are barely visible during races but who can make the difference between first and last place by directing the boats and shouting commands.
Coxswains — often called coxes for short — are typically quite short; diminutive might be another adjective as a coxswain’s ideal weight is 110 pounds (if heavier the boat is carrying unnecessary weight and if lighter the cox gets to carry a compensatory amount of sand). But they are also ferocious competitors, leather-lunged motivational “speakers” and able to ignore the pain and suffering of their crewmates in the quest to reach the finish line first.
A coxswain’s job seems simple: Steer the boat straight, provide the focus that rowers need to work together and extract from each rower what they themselves cannot imagine putting out over the last 250 meters of a race. A cox’s job is done well if the rowers are incapable of sitting up at the end of the race and the cox is unable to speak above a whisper.
The Vashon Junior Crew has three excellent coxswains: eighth-grader Olivia Mackey, freshman Ally Clevenger and sophomore Liv Mangione.
The opening race on Sunday was a boy’s novice double where Forrest Miller and Jacob Plihal kicked off the day with a gold.
Three races later, the boys heavyweight quad with Isaiah Moser-Rohe, Alexander Wright, Gus Magnuson, Tate Gill and coxswain KaiLi Scheer brought in the next first-place finish. The girls 8 then added a gold earned by Hannah Russell, Ella McConnell, Anne Gaspars, Shannon Lipe, Kirsten Jeffries, Maya Krah, Emmie Kehoe, Bryn Gilbert and coxswain Ally Clevenger.
More first place finishes were tallied by the boys’ novice quad (Miller, Liam McConnell, Plihal, Fletcher Call and Katelyn Carter as cox), the girls’ varsity double (Anna Ripley and Kalie Heffernan) and the girls’ varsity four (Jeffries, Krah, Kehoe and Gilbert, with Clevenger coxing).
In the last three events of the day, Vashon finished strong, claiming first in all three races: the boys’ novice four (Miller, Ethan Rumberg, Plihal and Call with Clevenger coxing), the girls’ varsity four (Russell, Ripley, Jeffries and Heffernan, with Olivia Mackey coxing) and the varsity boys’ double (Magnuson and Gill).
After the event, rowing coach Richard Parr said he liked what he was seeing from the young rowers so early in the season.
“In particular, the boys’ novice four displayed amazing power for such a young group of rowers,” he said. “The girls’ varsity quad also moved the boat extremely well.”
Parr noted that Vashon had yet to face its stiffest competitors.
“We need to keep building each week to be where we want to be by the end of May for Junior Regionals.”
— Pat Call is a recreational rower and the father of two junior rowers.