For the second year in a row, Greenwich Crew will send several of its members to the USRowing Youth National Championship Regatta, which will be held this year at Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn. June 10 through June 12.
The team will compete with two boats: a single, rowed by junior Hannah Balikci, and a lightweight eight-plus (lwt 8+), manned by Julie Sussman, Chelsea Oarr, co-captain Lara Tiramani, Sophie Grueterich, Whitney Lees, Nicole Birkhold, Gillian Burke, Maddie Harrison, and coxswain Giulia Volterra.
In order to qualify to row the 2,000-meter course in Tennessee, the team had to place at least third in its race category in the Northeast Regional Championships hosted in Lowell, Mass., on May 21 and 22.
For the lwt 8+, Greenwich Crew raced against eight other teams in regionals, and the girls earned a bronze, crossing the finish line behind Community Rowing, Inc. (first place) and Saugatuck Rowing (second place).
For Hannah Balikci in the single, this process was a little different. She raced against 15 other girls during her event, but since the course only accommodated six lanes, the singles raced in heats before the competition pool was narrowed down for the semifinal and final rounds. By placing third in her heat, Balikci moved on to place second in the semifinals and then fourth in the finals, which qualified her to compete in nationals (the third-place finisher had already qualified for the competition through a different regatta).
Reaching this point required a great deal of practice. "Our normal practice schedule includes two-hour practices after school Monday through Friday, and three supplemental practices, on Tuesday from 5:45 to 6:45 a.m., Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m.," senior co-captain Marina Kaneko explained.
A strict workout schedule helps the team create a well-rounded approach to improving performance. Senior Julie Sussman, one of the eight girls who will be rowing in the lightweight boat at nationals, said, "We divide our practice time between rowing on the water, which includes short sprints, longer endurance pieces, and drills to practice technique, and land workouts, which include rowing on machines called ergs, running, weight-lifting and core."
As regionals approached, and with nationals just around the corner, practice heated up. "The other regattas we competed in this season have helped us prepare and given us racing experience," says Kaneko. "We are trying to build on the momentum we gained in the last few weeks of our regular season, improving our technique and really getting our sprints down. After having raced against impressive crews from the Northeast, we know that the field of competitors at the National level will be strong."
The road up to this point was certainly not an easy one. "Injuries and sickness have been a major obstacle that we have had to overcome," Sussman said.
"We recently lost our co-captain and senior Marina Kaneko to knee injuries, but are happy to be joined by junior Maddie Harrison, who rowed with us at nationals last year. Coxswain Glaura Paiva also will not be able to participate. Last year, however, we also replaced one rower and one coxswain between regionals and nationals, so adapting to changing circumstances is nothing that Greenwich Crew can't handle."
Her teammates agree, already training their focus on what lies ahead. The girls express great excitement to see how their hard work and skill development will pay off at the competition next week.
"I am both nervous and excited," said Balikci. "When I first realized I was going, I literally could not stop smiling -- I was so happy ... But at nationals I am going to be competing against the fastest 19 girls singles in the country. It's an intimidating thought. I want to do well, but I know that nationals is going to be the hardest weekend of racing in my life."
Last year, Greenwich Crew's lwt 8+ placed 12th out of the 20 boats in its event. This year, their expectations for success are even higher.
"The lightweight eight-plus hopes to do better this year than last year," Sussman said. "Last year, we were a very young team, with only one senior. This year, we have three seniors, and six of the eight rowers are returning to nationals. We have gained experience together and have participated in more or less the same lineup since last year."
They attribute their success not only to practice, but also to their coaches' dedication. "We have all worked hard this season and had the benefit of training under our great coaches, Marko Serafimovski and Mike Wieneke," Kaneko said.
The rowers also credit their teammates.
"I couldn't have done this without my team," said Balikci.
"In my finals race on May 22, I was coming down the course when I heard my name being yelled. While in pain from the race, I managed to look at the sidelines, and I could see all of the rowers following me, running down the course ... all of that support helped me stay strong during the race."
Teamwork, hard work, and passion for the sport are key ingredients that have contributed to a successful season for the team. On June 10, the bar will be raised even higher as they compete against other national-level crew teams who qualified in their own regional competitions.
"Our team is made up of a well-rounded group of sophomores through seniors, and I think this diversified dynamic will help us present a strong line-up in Tennessee, as well as leave a growing legacy with Greenwich Crew for the coming years," said Kaneko.