By BOB YORK
It’s called Melton Hill Lake, but to five boys from Deerfield Academy, it will always be their Golden Pond. The lake, which is located in Oakridge, Tenn., annually plays host to the Youth National Rowing Championships and this year, the Big Green’s Number 1 boat churned its way to a national championship in the High School Coxswain and Four competition.
“National champions … it sure has a nice ring to it, now doesn’t it,” said Wayne Burger, the skipper of the Deerfield boys flotilla. “I’m just so proud of these kids and the way they worked so hard all season long. And now, all that hard work has really paid off.
“There were 19 teams entered in our bracket,” added Burger of a regatta that consisted of some 1,500 athletes competing in 18 different boat classes, “and just about all of them were representing rowing clubs rather than schools and that gave those boats a huge advantage. The rowing clubs generally row together about 10 months a year … we row together about two months a year. ”
And so, the Big Green’s Fab Five – Brad Plunkett (’12), Rich Caputo (’14), Henry Bird (’12), Brad Hakes (’12), and coxswain Grant Louis (’14) – had their work cut out for them, but the majority of those who made up this boat’s engine — Plunkett and Hakes, who shared this year’s Coaches’ Award, as well as Bird — had sparked Deerfield to a third-place finish last year and so, with half the crew having been here, done that, no one was in awe of an entry field that contained what Burger would describe as “some of the premier Junior teams in the country … if not the world.”
The flagship of the Big Green fleet earned its invite to the Nationals by finishing second in its bracket at the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association Regatta at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester two weeks prior. In fact, the boys qualified all four of their boats for the New England Grand Finals, while the girls qualified their first and second boats which placed sixth and fifth respectively for a fifth spot in the final team standings.
Members of three of the four boys boats, meanwhile, earned their way to the podium, as the second and third boats both wound up third, while the first boat pulled in second, finishing behind Belmont Hill. Deerfield’s fourth boat just missed medaling, finishing fourth in its bracket. As for the team title, Belmont Hill grabbed the gold, while Deerfield settled for silver – just one point ahead of the bronze medal-winning team from Choate.
“We got off to a good start at the Nationals, and in these kind of races, that’s really important,” explained Burger of an opening heat on Friday afternoon that saw Deerfield post the fastest time of all 19 crews in the event. “With the win, we and the other three heat winners moved directly into one of two six-boat semifinals.
“The rest of the teams, meanwhile, had to race Saturday morning in a repechage (second-chance heat) in an effort to qualify for Saturday afternoon’s semifinal round,” added Burger. “So, all those teams that had to compete in the repechage, ended up rowing in three races in about a 24-hour span and that’s a lot of racing in a short period of time.”
Deerfield’s semifinal appearance put it up against Saratoga Rowing, which had previously won Stotesbury, the Scholastic Nationals and the Canadian School Boy Championships. The second semifinal featured Belmont Hill, Marina Aquatic and Los Gatos Rowing Club, two of the best teams the Southern California area has to offer. The top three finishers in both semifinal races then moved on to the finals.
In the finale, Deerfield and archrival Belmont Hill quickly turned the festivities into a two-team race. The Big Green picked up the pace over the final 300 yards, however, and barely beat Belmont Hill to the finish line, winning by less than a half second at 6:40.967 over a course that now covered 2,000 meters rather than the 1,500 meters the Big Green had had been covering prior to the Nationals.
“It was nip-and-tuck all the way,” said Burger. “I’d say Belmont Hill’s biggest lead throughout was about 20 feet. We managed to pull even with them with about 10 strokes left to the finish line and finally moved ahead with five strokes left and we held on to win by about six feet … and you can take my word for it, that’s not much distance in this sport.”
Members of the boys second boat, which placed third at the New England regatta were Erik Alfieri (’13), Ted Romeyn (’13), Ryan Heffernan (’12), John Marsh (’12), and coxswain Ricker Bixby (’15). The third boat, which also wound up third at the NEIRA, consisted of Warner Brown (’13), Fran Franzinetti (’14), Conner Romeyn (’13), Charlie Wilson (’12), and coxswain Will Beck (’15). The fourth boat, meanwhile, listed Alex Deveries (’12), Chris Miao (’12), Connor McDermott (’14), Charlie Ughetta (’15), and coxswain James Chung (’15) as its crew.
As for the Deerfield girls, their No. 1 boat consisted of Muriel Solberg (’12), Olivia Shehan (’14), Claire Collins (’15), Beth Lawless ‘(12), and coxswain Sophie Berube (’12). Solberg and Berube were later named recipients of this year’s Coaches’ Award. The second boat was made up of Casey Butler (’13), Lexi Leija (’12), Morgan Macey (’14), Libby Murray (’14), and coxswain Eileen Russell (’15). Place Wilson (’14), Liz Koris (’14), Dana Barry (’15), and Gen Gresser (’15) were logged into the third boat.
Burger’s successful run for a National title may have crossed the finish line, but his coaching season is back in the starting blocks. He’ll be at Princeton University June 25-27, where he will spend three days tutoring at the Junior National Team Trials. And there will be some familiar faces there, as four Deerfield rowers will be on hand, hoping to earn a berth on the rosters that will take part in the Junior World Championships in Trakai, Lithuania, July 12-15. Those familiar faces belong to Plunkett, Caputo, Collins, and Murray.