It was a big weekend for Bainbridge Island Rowing, as two crews competed in the 2018 USRowing Youth National Championships in Sacramento, CA: the boys lightweight 4+, which took first place in the Northwest Youth Regional Championships four weeks prior, and the girls open weight varsity 4+. Over three days of competition, the girls rowed their way to a coveted ranking among the top 10 boats in the nation, beating 12 of the 21 best crews from across the United States to capture 9th place overall in their boat class. The boys finished in the top 20 for the 5th time in the last 6 years.
For the varsity girls, it was a classic Cinderella story from the start of the Spring season to its exciting completion on Sunday. Although BIR has qualified for Nationals for the past 12 years, it had been five years since BIR sent a girls’ openweight crew to compete.
This year’s crew of Gracie Dymoke, Julia Batson, Olivia Pells, Tessa Longley, and coxswain Olivia Zachariah were determined to row at Nationals, after narrowly missing their chance by only six seconds at Regionals in 2017. Following a solid season in which they earned second place at the Covered Bridge Regatta in Eugene, OR, and third place at the Brentwood Regatta in Mill Bay, B.C., they ultimately took fourth place in the Northwest Youth Regional Competition in Vancouver, WA on May 20. After holding second or third place for most of the final, they were overtaken in the final stretch by Sammamish Rowing, who edged them out by a mere 1.68 seconds. Sammamish’s victory ensured their own opportunity to compete at Nationals and potentially put an end to the BIR openweight girls’ spring season.
Given their strong performance at earlier regattas and the close finish at Regionals, and boosted by the knowledge that they had just recorded the 8th fastest time in the nation, the BIR girls petitioned for and were offered a chance to compete at Nationals. “Entering Nationals as a petition crew definitely gave us a sense of being an underdog,” said senior Julia Batson, “and that gave us even more of a drive to prove what we’re capable of.”
Going into last weekend’s competition, the BIR girls were seated 19th overall. Their first challenge came in Friday morning’s qualifying event as they competed to earn a spot in the semifinals. All teams rowed the 2000-meter course individually for time. The eight fastest crews automatically moved on to the semifinals and enjoyed an afternoon of rest before racing again on Saturday. Boats 9-20 we required to race once more on Friday afternoon in one of two head-to-head heats, with the top two boats in each heat automatically advancing to the semifinals and the bottom four in each moving to the C final.
BIR placed 11th in Friday morning’s time trials, so they had to race again in the head-to-head qualifiers on Friday afternoon. The competition was fierce, but BIR led the pack for the entire race, earning the girls a coveted spot in the semifinals. “We didn’t really know what to expect as far as placement going into this week, said Pells, “but after our time trial, we started to realize we could make the top 10.”
The conditions were near idyllic on Saturday morning, with sunny skies, temperatures near 80 degrees, and calm water. At 10:20 AM the first six boats in the girls openweight 4+ took to the water. Seven and a half minutes later, the top three boats (Connecticut Rowing, RowAmerica, and Marina Aquatic Center) progressed to the A final and a chance to rank 1st through 6th in the United States. The bottom three boats (Nobles Rowing, OARs, and Greater Lawrence Rowing) moved on to the B Final for a chance at placing 7th through 12th.
At 10:27, it was BIR’s turn, as the girls raced against five of the top crews in the country. It was tough going for BIR that day, and they ended up placing 6th in their semifinal heat, qualifying them for the B final alongside Mountain Lakes Rowing and Asheville Youth Association. But the BIR girls were all smiles, knowing they still had a shot at ranking among the top 10 nationally in the finals. According to BIR Varsity Girls Head Coach Megan Ledoux, “Our goal at that point was to in place in the top three in the B final, so we could place in the single digits of national rankings.”
Sunday brought the slightly cooler temperatures and breezy conditions all too familiar to Pacific Northwest rowers. By the time the B final began at 1:10 PM, a decent headwind had developed. The BIR girls are used to rowing in the often-windy weather and choppy waters of Eagle Harbor and their confidence grew. Early in the race, all six boats were tightly packed and almost even. At the 500-meter mark, Asheville began to make a move and took the lead. Close behind was Nobles Rowing, with the remaining four boats at least a full length behind the leader.
Approaching the 1000-meter mark, Asheville and Nobles opened their lead even further, and it became a race behind them for third place, with BIR holding 5th position, half a length out of fourth. At the 1000-meter mark, the BIR girls started to make their move and challenge the other boats. “It looks like Bainbridge Island may be the boat to watch”, said the announcer, as the girls quickly overtook the fourth-place boat and started gunning for third. Greater Lawrence had no intention of giving up easily, though, and they dug deep to fend off BIR’s challenge.
Coming into the last 200 meters, Greater Lawrence still had a slight lead over BIR, but the Bainbridge girls poured everything they had into their final sprint and edged into third place by 0.7 seconds. With their third-place finish, they achieved their goal of placing in the single digits, capturing the title of 9th in the nation. “I knew we had it when I turned over at the 1100-meter mark,” said senior Olivia Zachariah, “and from there on out it was all about motivating them to row the race they needed to race to achieve our goal. From a coxswain’s perspective, it was all about keeping our heads and hearts in the game until the very last second.” Junior Tessa Longley added, “We had set the goal of going to Nationals early in the fall season. We worked our butts off every day, and it paid off in every way imaginable.”
It was also the first time coaching a team to Nationals for Coach Ledoux: “I am incredibly proud of how the BIR Varsity Girls raced! Nationals is different from all other regattas of the year. Not only is the competition intense, but the relatively long series of races is also incredibly physically and emotionally taxing. The teams represented at Nationals are the fastest young rowers in the nation, which can be simultaneously inspiring and intimidating. The mental and physical sacrifices it takes to train at this level is indicative of how much these girls wanted to race and be competitive on the national stage. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a successful season. I was able to do this with the help of my Assistant Coach, Olivia Gangmark-Strickland, and the other incredibly supportive BIR coaches: Bruce Beall, Tim Goss, Nicolai Otte and David Miller.”
Assistant Coach Olvia Gangmark-Strickland added, “I am beyond proud of our girls. It was the best race they’ve had all season.”
A Winning End to High School Careers
For three of the girls in the boat, the Youth Nationals represented the end of their high school rowing careers. Julia Batson, Olivia Pells, and Olivia Zachariah all graduate from Bainbridge High School this week. Batson will row in the fall for Smith College, Pells for St. Mary’s College, and Zachariah for the University of Victoria. The other two girls in this winning crew, Gracie Dymoke and Tessa Longley, will be back in the BIR boats this fall, Longley as a team captain. “It was really cool to show well-known teams from around the U.S. what BIR is capable of,” said Dymoke. “I’m so excited to see what is in the future for us as a whole team.”
The BIR boys lightweight varsity 4+ also had a season to be proud of, taking first place at the Northwest Youth Regional Championship in May and second at the Brentwood Regatta in April. The competition at Nationals was strong, and the boys ultimately competed in the C final, placing 18th overall. BIR Boys Varsity Coach Bruce Beall, noted that the boys had a terrific season overall and is proud of how hard they worked to reach Nationals again. “It is truly an honor to compete at this level,” said Beall.
For BHS senior and varsity captain, Hudson Dore, it was his second Youth National competition and his final race with Bainbridge Island Rowing. Dore will go on to row at Wesleyan University this fall. His fellow crewmates—Josh Philip, Noah Faust, Colin Lindquist, and coxswain Veronica Liberman—will have a shot at a national title again next year as BIR rowers.
Philip will replace Dore as one of three boys’ varsity captains next fall, and summed up the race and season – “Although Nationals didn’t go the way we wanted, I think we were all able to learn from it. Personally, it gave me a glimpse of what the next level of rowing is like. It also gave me the goal of returning next year and the motivation to achieve that goal. I’m excited to help lead my team into next year’s Regional Championships, and I hope to bring even more BIR rowers next time.”
Sophomore Colin Lindquist added, “Qualifying for Nationals has shown me how hard, yet fun it is to get five people to work together as a team, and it has helped me think about how I can become a better rower over the next two years at BIR.”
The entire A & B finals can be seen on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ny4DOTiVQc