Williamsburg Boat Club Juniors continue rise

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

A season filled with "How did this happen so fast?" moments concluded June 9 at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla., for the Williamsburg Boat Club Juniors.

In what must seem like the blink of an eye to WBC Juniors coach Tom Rooks, the team went from learning the basics at Chickahominy Riverfront Park only three years ago to fielding competitive boats at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Princeton, New Jersey, in the spring before the lightweight women's eight boat closed the 2016-17 campaign in nationals at the world-class Nathan Benderson Park.

WBC Juniors never set winning as an expectation from the onset of the club, although winning has become the byproduct of fierce loyalty and dedication to the club that will feature a staff of six coaches and a roster pushing 80 come fall.

Lilly de Jager (William and Mary), Caroline Hastings (La Salle), Mallory Downey (VCU), Sarah Wells (Delaware), Jenna Alcorn (Alabama), Caroline Larson (George Mason), Jessica Delapena (George Mason), Mitch de Jager (Virginia Tech) and Jacob Cook (Virginia Tech) each will compete in NCAA Division I or collegiate club programs next season.

"I didn't think we'd be here this quick," Rooks said.

Hastings and Downey competed in the lightweight women's eight event at nationals in a 600-acre park that features a 2,000-meter spring rowing course and regatta center, and will host the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

WBC Juniors finished 23rd out of 24 boats, but can still lay claim to being the 23rd-best lightweight women's eight boat in the country in a championship environment that likely included some future Olympians.

Hastings had only been part of WBC Juniors for one season after leaving her Richmond club.

"It was a great opportunity for the club to see what it is like to race at that level," Hastings said. "It was very intimidating at first and the heat and humidity was at its peak, but overall the venue was beautiful and the races went very well. I couldn't have asked for a better boat to race with, either."

Downey said it was a fun and exciting experience but wishes the entire team could have been there to cheer them on.

"WBC will always have a very special place in my heart," she said, "and I hope that it will continue to bring people as much joy as it has brought me and that it will continue to inspire others to work their very hardest and love the people around them."

The weather was just the opposite in Princeton, where the WBC men's and women's novice fours each took home bronze medals, something that seemed unattainable a year ago when the club finished last in nearly every event it entered in regionals.

Just making it through the weather, with rain and temperatures in the 40s along with a condensed format, was an accomplishment to Rooks.

"All the kids were just beat down by the end of the day, and they took it well," he said. "They handled themselves well.

"We didn't just show up. We showed tremendous improvement."

The season is complete, but training will go on in the summer, no different than for serious athletes in any other sport. And Rooks said spots in the learn-to-row camps (visit WBCjuniors.org) in August are filling up.

When fall hits, the club will face the new challenge of being the regional favorite in the state. The challenge for Rooks and the other coaches will be retaining the close-knit culture that has made WBC such a hit.

"They want more, more, more," Rooks said. "I don't want to let them down."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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