The youth athletes of Bainbridge Island Rowing have ended their seasons with exceptional showings at both the regional and national levels despite the constant adjustment of programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Island rowers took part in the Northwest Youth Regional Championships in Vancouver, WA May 21-22 and then traveled to Sarasota, Fla. to participate in the U.S. Youth National Championships from June 10-13.
Among the high-level performers were Bainbridge High School sophomores Alex Morrison and Hannah Cutler, who placed fifth in the nation in the U17 2x women’s category. Ben Chapman and Roan Dalton finished 11th in the U17 2x men’s category while finishing 28th in the men’s category were graduating senior Spencer Fleming and juniors Luke Collins, Dane Verharen and Will Seibert.
“We were very proud to have found a way to keep over 65 youth athletes active and engaged during an extremely isolating time in their lives,” said BIR coach and board member Sue Entress.
BIR had to change its programs on the fly this year. Typically, the youth programs have focused on what are known as “sweep” boats, which have one oar per rower with either four or eight rowers in a boat. But COVID social distancing protocols compelled the program to move to “sculls,” which have two oars per rower. As restrictions relaxed, the teams moved back to the larger boats, but the work training in the smaller boats, which were loaned by local private owners, paid off.
“The smaller boats require more skill and finesse,” Entress said. “Ultimately, that proved to be an advantage as we re-entered our larger boats at the end of the season.”
Although all formal competitions were canceled for the season, the regional championships were able to go ahead thanks to the efforts of the 22 teams involved. Five of BIR’s six boats were able to make it to the podium.
Varsity coach Chelsea Vessenes said rowing in smaller boats temporarily forced the team’s coxswains to the sidelines, but had no trouble picking up where they left off once they got back into larger boats.
“Competing in larger boats at regionals got these talented athletes back in the boat,” Vessenes said, “where they once again proved that they truly are worth their weight in gold.”
Eight rowers went on to the national championships. Director of Rowing and varsity boys coach Bruce Beall said it was important to have some of the program’s younger athletes get experience at the highest level of competition.
“Only one of these rowers [Spencer Fleming] is graduating,” Beall said. “So both of the girls and five of the six boys will be playing a critical role in the goal of continuing to make the junior team competitive at the highest level. They’re excited to work hard on improving their rowing performances and motivating their teammates to do the same.”
On the morning of Morrison and Cutler’s finals race in Florida, the rest of the team gathered on Bainbridge Island for a 4:30 a.m. cheering party as they followed the action on livestream. “Having all of your teammates cheering you on while competing at that level was incredibly motivating,” Cutler said, “and I’m so thankful BIR gave us that opportunity, especially this year.”
U.S. Youth National Championship
U17 Women’s 2x (BHS sophomores Alex Morrison and Hannah Cutler) placed fifth in the nation.
U17 Men’s 2x (BHS sophomores Ben Chapman and Roan Dalton) placed 11th in the nation.
Men’s 4x (BHS graduating senior Spencer Fleming and juniors Luke Collins, Dane Verharen and Will Seibert) placed 28th in the nation.
NW Regional Youth Championship
Girls Varsity 4+: First Place: Cassidy Parr, Hannah Cutler, Maddi Stoehr, Aubry Ackland, Abbie Doane (coxswain).
Girls 4+: Third Place: Alexandra Morrison, Sofia Forslund, Eleanor Calvez, Nicoletta Paxhia, Kayla Musser (coxswain).
Boys 4+: Second Place; Owen Sykes, William Taylor, Aidan Driggers, Hugo Pizarro, Tanner Reightley (coxswain).
Boys 4+ Fourth Place: Luke Watson, Liam Reinders, Keon Deng, Carter Ragan, Erin Weiss (coxswain).
Girls JV 4x/Final B: First Place: Veronica Conklin, Linden Skalak, Annabel Nemeth, Natalie Noel.