Montclair Crew became the first public high school in a decade to bring home the most prestigious trophy of the biggest high school rowing race in the world.
When Owen King was asked how it felt to make history in the final of the men’s senior (varsity) 8 at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, he took a second to ponder. Stotesbury Cup Regatta has over 10,000 spectators watching over 900 boats in over 25 different events. The men’s senior 8 is the flagship event of the regatta. This was a race in which Montclair beat out several perennial private-school powerhouses to take home their first Stotesbury Cup. This was a race that Montclair had searched for, ever since they started taking men’s 8’s seriously in 2013. This was a race that had not been won by a public school in a decade. King’s response? “Fun.”
And that’s exactly how it should be. Annually, when Montclair Crew boards the buses in late May to travel and stay in Philadelphia for the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, they are at the most competitive point in their season. Months, sometimes years of training are stuffed into the erg room in the basement of Montclair High School. But even with everything on the line, Montclair coaches Jeremy Michalitsianos and Lorna Rundle never forget to remind their rowers to “just have fun.”
This year, Montclair’s run up to Stotesbury looked promising. The men’s senior 8 were undefeated throughout the season, winning a State Championship with ease. Their performances were emboldened by the fact there are only two seniors in Montclair’s senior 8.
The women’s senior 8 were forming into a formidable force. The depth of the team was also auspicious, with both 2nd 8’s performing week after week and the freshman crews gaining a taste of competition.
Montclair had a nervy start to the regatta. After the time trials on Friday, all Montclair crews progressed to the semifinals on Saturday. After the semifinals were raced, six Montclair boats had made it to the final. While this is an achievement in itself, the first Montclair crews to race all placed sixth, including both freshman 8’s.
The men’s 2nd senior 8 broke this dismal streak, and ended their regatta with a bronze medal in a time of 4:29.75, narrowly missing silver by 0.5 seconds. Michalitsianos said he was “very happy” that the 2nd 8 “showed the depth of the program.” It is rare for a school to medal in both 1st and 2nd senior men’s 8’s. It is downright unprecedented for a coed public school program to do so, especially with only 5 seniors between the two crews.
Next were the women’s senior 8, who failed to make the grand finals but won the petite (2nd level) final from the heavily disadvantaged lane 6. Lorna Rundle, the coach of the women, said she was “very proud.”
Then came the men’s senior 8. As the crowd watched in anticipation, Montclair’s 8 surged through the field as they had done all season. With unrivaled technique and a dynamic mix of power and composure, the 8 won the Stotesbury Cup with a time of 4:14. The Montclair 8, as is almost never the case in men’s varsity eights, were head and shoulders above the rest of the field, winning by a boat length (57 feet).
In 2nd place was Gonzaga, the Washington D.C. private school that had won the event the last five years. In 3rd was St. Albans, another D.C. private school that boasts handfuls of politicians as their graduates.
Senior captain and recruited athlete Kjel Schlemmer said it was “a dream come true. We had been doing everything in our power to get as much speed as possible for that final race and to have all that hard work validated and quantified felt amazing for the entire boat.”
The boat was told that should they win the race, they would be allowed to compete at the world’s oldest competitive boat race, Henley Royal Regatta in England.
The Montclair Dispatch will be sending a reporter to cover their races in England.