WAHS Rowing: Turns on the periphery
By Jennifer A Sheffield
The Beaver Creek Sculling program sends western Albemarle rowers to the top races in the country
In the boathouse at Beaver Creek Reservoir, a banner hangs on the wall that reads, “This is where you get better.” The hidden lake is where sleepy high school students meet a fleet of Fluidesign sculling boats at 6 a.m. on frosty mornings pull from the ceiling, select oars and, as soon as they are on the water, hone their technique and hardness.
Beaver Creek Sculling (BCS) is the not-for-profit umbrella organization of Western Albemarle High School’s (WAHS) collegiate crew, which practices and competes in the spring as a club sport. Based on the team‘s state and national results last fall, with races ranging from the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia to the internationally attended Head of the Charles in Boston, it was clear that the commitment to Sunrise Sessions was paying off.
Ahead of tryouts scheduled for February 21, in which one athlete will complete a brutal 2km (2,000 meter) endurance and sprint test on a Concept II stationary bike, head coach Craig Redinger said, “I had kids rowing boats, the eighth and ninth were at Junior Nationals [in Sarasota, Fla.] this summer and was able to win medals against the best in the country. On the other hand, I want this sport to be a community sport and it doesn’t take long to progress, so I’ve never taken a kid off the team based on their initial performance.”
Redinger took over five years ago from the late Myriam Pitts, the team founder who ranked a team of just 20 rowers in 2015 when Western dominated at the Virginia State Rowing Association (VASRA) Championships and brought home three champions in singles and quad race and a third place in doubles in the 1,500 meter sprint. All four boats entered the National Scholastic Rowing Association championship that year, where Western won four medals.
In 2021, the women’s junior quad (4x) won the VASRA Championship and a team now numbering 54 began their fall racing season with excellence at North Carolina’s High Point Autumn Festival Regatta. Among the school’s 13 entries were gold medals for the U17 women’s 4x, men’s 4x, men’s singles (1x) and doubles (2x), the U17 men’s 4x and a silver medal for the women’s 2x.
The Schuylkill took place at the end of October and with 260 clubs registered, BCS took silver for men 2x and bronze for women’s beginners 4x. For the first time in its history, BCS also had one youth women’s doubles, two youth men’s doubles and two women’s singles selected by lottery for the Charles Regatta, which is attended by 11,000 athletes.
Nadia Anderson, a western volunteer assistant coach and former collegiate rower, said the Charles can be difficult for rowers who, by luck of the draw, will start behind the pack.
Despite their number of bugs, seniors Lucas Farmer and Will Donovan finished eleventh and Jack Mehnert and Ryan Kennedy in thirty-first place in the men’s youth doubles, finishing 2:57 and 3:04 from the lead boat. Junior Cal Dagner finished twenty-first (U17 entry) and Greta Slaats finished thirty-ninth in the women’s youth individual competition, finishing 3:45 and 4:00 ahead of the lead boat.
Youth dual rowers Lydia Pelton and Delaney Young, whose 2K time trial was 7:45 at the Youth Nationals, finished Boston in twenty-eighth place.
Dagner owes her success to a full three-season rigorous training course. “The more time we spend at race pace, the faster our race pace becomes and the longer we can maintain it. Add to that the mental training with each stoke, which helps us prepare for points in a race where we want to stop.”
Slaats said, “I had support from my teammates and there was a spirit that got me through the rest of the fall season.” Slaats’ sister Colette also rows with the Henley Middle School team.
Because Western only competes in sculls (small boats, rather than sweep boats where each rower uses a single oar), senior Rivenna Barber described the teamwork required to balance a lighter boat. “The synchronicity is very precise, so we teach the younger kids to work as a whole team.”
Redinger lets everyone row in competition as soon as they are able. Additionally, rowers are attending camps, including one with University of Virginia coach Frank Biller, who has been consulting with the team during Covid.
“Your success comes naturally from hard work,” he said. The men’s captain, Farmer, is committed to Wisconsin and Donavan is headed northeast.
“If they’re competitive, Craig will keep pushing,” Biller said. “Seeing them pursue something they didn’t know existed is the rewarding cause, and rowing paves the way for children to succeed in whatever path they choose in life.”
Junior Quentin Bragaw summed up the whole experience: “It’s nice to have him as an anchor. I can focus on that and improve on that.”
BCS charges fees and raises money for boats costing up to $25,000 each. But: “It doesn’t make a damn difference which boat you row, it depends on how much courage you have,” said Redinger.
WAHS coaches offer community summer rowing programs for adults and youth in Beaver Creek. Visit www.beavercreeksculling.org for more information