By BOB YORK –
“California Dreamin’” would be an appropriate name if the Deerfield Academy boys crew team should decide its current moniker–“Number One Boat”–might be a little too boring. After all, every crew team that’s ever dipped its oars in water has had a “Number One Boat.”
Not every school’s flagship has qualified for the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships, though, but Deerfield’s has and this spring’s national regatta will take place in–you guessed it–California.
The Big Green’s top boat qualified for the national championships two years ago in Oakridge, Tenn., and then captured the crown by besting the other 18 boats in its bracket. This year, Deerfield will be seeking a repeat performance when it travels to Lake Natona, which is located near Sacramento.
Deerfield, which wound up third in the final team standings of this spring’s New England Interscholastic Rowing Association Regatta, qualified for its cross-country trek by beating out Belmont Hill School in the Grand Finale. The boat hit the finish line of the 1,500-meter course in a time of 4:52.124, just under four seconds in front of Belmont Hill.
“It was a superb performance by the kids,” said skipper Geoff Bond of his first crew’s trek across Worcester’s Lake Quinsigamond. “We went into the race as the second seed and ended up beating the first seed. Year in and year out, Belmont Hill not only has the premier prep school crew program in New England but one of the best throughout the entire country as well. So, just qualifying for the nationals proved to be quite a feat in itself.”
Experience should play a helpful role when competing on the national level and the Big Green has that ingredient covered. Two members of this year’s team were on board when Deerfield received its gold medal two years ago. The remnants of that team are coxswain Grant Louis (14), who will be barking out the count at Yale come next spring, and Rich Caputo (14), who occupies the fourth seat. Caputo, the winner of this year’s Coach’s Award, will be dipping his oar at Brown next year.
The remainder of the first boat’s crew consists of Francesco Franzinetti (14), Henry Sanford (15) and Alex DeVries (15). The team will also bring a pair of alternate rowers along to the West Coast if they should be needed. Those two are Sam Armstrong (15) and Charlie Ughetta (15).
Deerfield’s invite to the Nationals not only means it will be spending quality time with some of the fastest crews who consider their port of call anywhere from Portland, Maine, to Portland Ore. It means it will be spending more quality time with them as well.
“Up until now, our races have been 1,500 meters in length,” explained Bond. “At the Nationals, the race course is 2,000 meters in length, so it’s something we have to adjust too.
“Obviously, it will be the most difficult 500 meters of the race because it’s the last 500 meters of the race,” added Bond. “I estimate time wise that the extra distance we’ll be rowing will add roughly another minute and 40 seconds to the race, so we’ll have to be sure we’re in the best physical shape we’ve been in all season log.”
In the team competition at the New England regatta, Deerfield wound up third in a field of 14 teams with 33 points. Belmont Hill, which has now won 12 of the past 13 NEIRA championships, paved the way this year with 45 points, while Groton was second with 40. St. Mark’s placed fourth in the final standings with 27 points.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” said Bond in reference of a possible encore by the Deerfield naval armada at the national regatta. “The majority of teams we’ll be going up against will be representing rowing clubs rather than school teams and that gives those boats a huge advantage. The rowing clubs generally spend about 10 months out of the year working out and competing together … we’re together about two months a year. It won’t stop us from giving it our best effort, though. I feel blessed to have been able to coach such a passionate, hard working group of kids.”
Of the known foes the Big Green will be facing on the West Coast will be the same Belmont Hill boat it defeated at the NEIRA regatta. Despite finishing second, it still qualified for the Nationals.
The remainder of the Deerfield flotilla wasn’t quite as fortunate, however, as only its second boat was able to add to the treasure chest. It finished third in its grand finale, while the third boat wound up fourth in its final competition, less than one-half a second out of third place. The Big Green’s fourth boat, meanwhile, missed out on qualifying for an appearance in its final by a mere half second.
Deerfield’s second boat, which featured coxswain Riker Bixby (15), along with oarsmen Will Hodges (15), Gordon Johnson (17), Caleb Friends (16) and Sam Armstrong (15), earned its bronze medal with a clocking of 5:00.633, just three seconds off the winning pace set by Belmont Hill at 4:57.435. Groton wound up second in a time of 4:59.178.
The third boat consisted of coxswain Dani Michelson (17), as well as rowers Will Trapp (15), who was named the team’s MVP, Dave Lucente (14), Wills McMahon (14) and Bryce Klehm (15), who was voted as captain of next year’s team. The fourth boat, meanwhile, featured coxswain Julien Lee (16) and oarsmen Freddie Johnson (17), who was named as the Most Improved Novice, Stepan Severov (15), Will Ughetta (17) and Jeff Sun (17).
“It was full of skinny freshmen,” quipped Bond, of his fourth boat. “They missed qualifying for the finale by a half second and considering each member of that boat averaged just 143 pounds, they did pretty well for themselves. Give them another couple of years to grow a little bit and they’ll really be making a name for themselves.”