Despite the relatively short history of the rowing programs at the Williamsburg Rowing Club, and the fact that the team they sent had only been together this season, the club’s team of five amateur girls wrapped up the spring rowing season with a third place finish in the US Rowing U17/U15 National Championships held in New Jersey earlier this month.
The WBC girl's U17 rowing team, made up of Sydney Walker as coxswain, and Grace McGonagale, Amber Cayci, Allison King and Peyton Stallings, had only been together as a boat crew since the start of the spring season. No member of the team has more than two or three years experience rowing, and two members (King and Stallings) had only begun rowing in the past year.
They quickly found out over the season that as a team though, they were more than able to hold their own against other teams with more experience.
“We practice five days a week, we push ourselves and each other to our limits, everyone gave it everything they had,” Stallings said. “We’ve really grown this season, as athletes and friends, and when you’re in the boat, in the heat of it, there’s no place I’d rather be than in the boat with them.”
Their coach, Mary Lou O’Halloran, in her fifth season coaching the novice women’s rowing team at the WBC, said that bond is one of the key advantages that the team had this year.
“More than many other sports, the foundation of any great rowing crew is teamwork and chemistry, and these girls had that in spades since day one,” O’Halloran said.
It was during the Mid-Atlantic Regionals held in Princeton, N.J. in May when she realized just how talented this group of girls was when they earned the WBC’s first ever first place finish.
“They faced teams of girls who have been rowing for years, from teams with long traditions in the sports, and they earned first place, so I told them heading into nationals that this was theirs if they wanted it,” O’Halloran said. “Watching them cross the finish line, I think I was jumping up and down as much as their mothers, maybe more so, for a group of girls who’ve only been rowing together for a season, to earn third place against some of the best teams in the country is just incredible, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
While that first place in regionals and the bronze medal at nationals are great achievements, the girls themselves seem mainly content to celebrate how they’ve grown, both individually as athletes, or as friends and teammates.
“It was new for a lot of us, like this year I switched over from rowing to serving as the coxswain, and we kinda just fell into the boat together at the start of the season,” said Walker. “None of us were really sure how we would do, but we kept going, working on our form, and while we did that, we learned about each other and started gelling together.”
Next year, this squad will become members of the various girls varsity rowing teams at the Williamsburg Boat Club. While they’d like to stay together as a crew, whatever comes next for these girls, they’ll admit this season was something special.
“We didn’t head into these meets looking to win, at first, we just wanted to learn, but as the season went on, we started to think we could do more than just learn, and really began to compete, and the results show that,” said Walker. “Whatever else happens, we’ll always have New Jersey.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.