The Montclair Boys 1st Varsity 8 are National Champions. After a landmark victory in Philadelphia at the Stotesbury Cup, the boys shook off post-victory tiredness and won a national championship the next weekend.
In the end, it almost seemed inevitable. From the finish line on the Cooper River, it is hard to tell who is in the lead of the race because of the angle. But in the final of the Men’s Varsity 8 at the SRAA National Championships on Sunday, everybody could tell. The navy blue of Montclair Crew, emblazoned with the signature white ‘M’ on the back, scythed through the field yet again. As many great crews do, they made winning look easy. They made declaring themselves national champions look easy. They made Montclair Crew’s greatest ever victory look easy.
SRAA Nationals regatta is designed to attract the fastest school crews in America. Teams fly in from Texas, Illinois, California and more to test their mettle. Teams have to qualify to race at the regatta based on results at various early season races, and this year Montclair qualified eight crews to race.
In a typically competitive regatta, some of Montclair’s crews lacked the experience to muscle or row their way to the top of the pack. Both Freshman 8’s missed out on medals. The Girls Lightweight Double were knocked out of the competition in the heats. The boys Freshman 8 and JV 8 failed to make the grand final, while the Girls Freshman 8 made it to the final and came 4th. All showings were respectable according to coach Lorna Rundle, who said “I’m really proud of our youngest rowers. They’ve not only learned a lot this season, but they did their best to perform for Montclair as well.”
As the regatta went on, things became more interesting. The Boys 2nd Varsity 8 raced themselves to a hard-fought bronze medal amongst a tight field. La Salle won the event, with Saint Ignatius in 2nd place.
Perhaps the most exciting race of the day was the Girls 2nd Varsity 8. After making the grand final, the girls failed to match the other crews starting speed, and fell slightly behind. With belief and composure, the girls managed to stay in the race until the line, where they took their opportunity. Two crews fighting for 2nd and 3rd, Winter Park and Saratoga, crashed into each other about 15 meters before the finish. Montclair capitalized on this and ended the race with a silver medal.
Next up was the main event, the Boys Varsity 8. As the crowd watched to see how the New Jersey public school would stack up against the best schools in the country, a familiar feeling washed over the Montclair fans. Smiles grew as they had done at Stotesbury the week before. No crew could maintain Montclair’s speed. Henry Vecchione, the 8’s stroke, keeps the stroke rate high but the rhythm fluid and easy to maintain. Many rowers never perfect this. Vecchione is a junior, and said “we really wanted to prove that Stotesbury wasn’t lucky and that we have a lot of speed. Crossing the line 1st was an incredible feeling.” The 8 crossed the line almost 3 seconds ahead of another public school powerhouse, New Trier. St. Albans came in 3rd.
In a similar situation to Stotesbury, the girls varsity 8 failed to make the grand final but performed in the petite (2nd level) final. The boat only has one senior, so the “future looks bright” according to Rundle.
After not losing once this season and becoming the fastest school crew in the country, head coach Jeremy Michalitsianos decided it was time his Boys Varsity 8 test their speed against crews in England. Henley Royal Regatta, the world’s oldest competitive boat race, provides an excellent opportunity for this. The regatta has the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, a race for schoolboy 8’s. Joining the 8 will be Devin Murphy and Paul Mihalis, members of the Boys 2nd Varsity 8. They will travel as spares, but will also race in the adult pairs event.
Montclair previously raced in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup in 2014. Head coach Jeremy Michalitsianos hopes that his crew has enough speed to win the event and beat historic English powerhouses such as Eton and St. Edwards. The regatta takes place in Henley-on-Thames in England, starting the 28th of June and ending on the 2nd of July.
A trip to England is expensive, and Montclair Crew need all the help they can get to send the boys across the pond. Consider donating here.