Port Rowing races at nationals in Camden, NJ

Emma Brezel, Staff Writer

As the Port crew team made the bus ride to Cooper River in Camden, New Jersey, there was a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere among the rowers.

“People were just hanging out and talking, but everyone knew that we weren’t going to the race to just have a good time and come home. Everyone knew we meant business. We wanted to show our abilities to the rest of the country at a national championship,” said junior Joel Kagan, a member on the JV 8+ boat.

It is their tenacious attitude, as well as their hunger to prove their worth, that has helped propel the members of Port Rowing from an inexperienced new team to a group of national qualifiers.

The road to nationals began a couple of weeks prior, at the New York State Championships. Three boats, the mens junior 8+, mens freshman 8+, and womens lightweight 4+, medaled. In doing this, they beat out some of the state’s top teams, including Chaminade and Canisius. The womens lightweight 4+ raced to a second place scholastic finish, and a berth at Nationals. The mens junior 8+ boat took part in a close competition, taking second place scholastic by only .62 seconds, clinching their spot in Nationals.

However, the most successful result of these three boats came from the mens freshman 8+ boat. They took the state championship, thus qualifying for nationals.

Scholastic Nationals took place from May 24 to May 25 on the Cooper River in Camden, New Jersey. For the first time ever there were three boats from Port in attendance. The races took place in subpar conditions. It was very rainy and windy, but the Port rowers were not deterred by the challenge, and they were ready to prove themselves on the national stage.

“Nationals comprised the top teams in the country with a business-like atmosphere. Every race came down with an entirely different intensity level than we are used to seeing,” said Head Coach Steve Panzik.

The first race of the day was the mens freshman 8+. After winning the state championships, they were attempting to carry over this success to Nationals. The freshman boat, in order from stroke to bow, consists of freshmen Aaron Bosgang, Mike Dispingo, Ian Brisson, Nick Barry, Austin Small, Philip Verdirame, Will Barnes, and Will Day. Navier Polanco served as coxswain. They came in fourth place, missing third by a narrow margin of 1.2 seconds. Their overall rank came down to roughly one stroke, placing thirteenth overall; there was less than one second separating them from the top ten.

Under the coaching of Brianna Pittman, a former member of the US Junior National Team, the womens lightweight 4+ boat was able to make a splash at its first national championship appearance.       The boat members include sophomores Katie Nelson, Mara Davis and Molly Alstodt and senior Melissa Iannucci. Freshman Talia Silverstein served as coxswain.       For the lightweight womens 4+, there were four heats with three boats from each going to the semis. The young boat was able to finish second in its heat, almost ten seconds ahead of the third place boat.

On the next day the girls raced in the semifinals. Despite their effort, the boat came in fifth place in its heat and was eliminated from competition. Overall, they finished in the top ten. For Iannucci, the race was definitely bittersweet.

“It felt great to make it to nationals; that in itself was a major accomplishment. However, it was also my last race for Port Rowing. It was really great to know that my last Port Rowing race was at nationals,” said Iannucci.

Some of the most notable Port Rowing came from the mens JV 8+. The boat is made up of eight juniors, Joe Finkelstein, Matt Di Giovanni, Zach Herron, Carl Finkbeiner, Noah Ross and CJ Tantillo with sophomore, Alex Herron as coxswain. In their first race of the competition, the mens JV 8+ was able to capture third place in their heat, thus qualifying for the semifinals the following day.

When it came down to the wire, the boys were not able to pull off a finals appearance. The top three boats in each semifinal race go to the finals, and with only a second between the first place boat and Port, the boat failed to qualify. It was close to the very end, but Coach Panzik still sees the upside of this loss.

“The junior men lost a total of four races this season by a ‘combined’ 1.7 seconds… and this only makes our team hungrier and faster,” said Panzik.

In just three years, Port Rowing has progressed from a novice program to qualifying for Nationals.

“The most important factor that helped us meet success, and that will help us continue it in the future, is that we have a number of incredibly devoted athletes and coaches who are willing to put in the time and hard work to make the team better,” said Kagan.