By Ed Moran/USRowing
Late Saturday, with the finals in the youth national championships on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge only hours away, the athletes from Narragansett Boat Club learned they had lost a member of their small family back home in Rhode Island.
Hope Wilhelm, Narragansett junior coach Peter Wilhelm’s 89-year-old mother, had died.
Over the years, Wilhelm has dedicated countless hours coaching kids in the Providence area and teaching them how to be both champions and promising young adults. He’s been to the youth national championships many times and left with trophies from several of those trips.
This year he had with him Chase Buchholtz, who was rowing the men’s youth single, and three other young men who were poised to challenge for national titles. Wilhelm’s first thoughts when he heard the news were to go home to be with his brothers.
“But I knew Mom would have wanted me to be here,” he said.
Moved by the love for their coach and in honor of what he has done for them, and his decision to stay, the crew stenciled the name “Hope” on the bow of their quad and dedicated their efforts in the finals in the 2013 USRowing Youth National Championships to Wilhelm’s mother.
And Sunday they rewarded his dedication and sacrifice by winning two national championships. Buchholtz won the men’s single, defeating Chris Wales of the Seattle Rowing Center, the defending champion, and then hours later jumped into the quad and led them to their second gold medal.
“We have known for the past couple of weeks that she wasn’t doing so well and it’s been in the back of my mind every practice, every row, that we’ve had,” Buchholtz said. “To take a ten for her at the thousand has been sort of our thing. She was definitely on my mind today. I think there were two people in that boat when I crossed the finish line in the single. Definitely.”
After the single, the four boys stayed close to their coach and then delivered the second trophy.
“Oh boy, that was really great,” Wilhelm said of the boat dedication. “The same idea was going through my head and it was nice they were thinking of me and that they had some of the same thoughts. They were really here for me this weekend. They, and their parents, were giving me a lot of support.”
The two trophies were among 18 that were earned in the three days of racing contested June 7-9 between more than 1,500 athletes from 30 clubs around the country.
Also winning multiple medals were Long Beach Junior Crew—two gold and two bronze; Marin Rowing Association—one gold, one silver, and two bronze; Oakland Strokes Inc.—a gold, a silver, and a bronze; Seattle Rowing Center—two gold and two silver; and Stanford Rowing Center—three bronze.
Seattle Rowing Center, a relatively new crew coached by Olympian and nine-time United States national team member, Conal Groom, had only two boats in the event in 2011, but six boats in the finals Sunday.
“We just started with a good culture, laid it out in front of the kids, and they bought into it and pushed it,” Groom said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been work, but it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve just been fortunate to have talented and motivated athletes from top to bottom.
“That first year, I think we had two boats. We had a small team, only seven or eight kids—a women’s quad and a light double. The double won and the quad was third, and it’s been building ever since. The kid from the light double is now a senior, and there is at least one girl from that original quad that’s still stroking the quad,” he said.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said. “They achieved their best races today and for those that medaled, that’s exceptional. For those who didn’t, that’s all we can ask, to have your best performance on the day of the final.”
The morning started just like the first two days of the three-day event. The river was shrouded in a thick fog. The result was a delay in racing of thirty minutes. Rain threatened the late afternoon but held off until the conclusion of the last final.
The first final of the morning, the women’s youth single sculls, unfolded about as expected. Community Rowing Inc.’s Cicely Madden and Y Quad City’s Elizabeth Sharis—teammates in the 2012 junior national team silver medal winning quad—set the pace and battled the length of the course.
Madden led from the start, with Sharis not far off her sten. Madden crossed first in 7:53.86. Sharis was second in 8:01.89, and Stanford’s Danni Struck won the bronze in 8:05.31.
“This feels awesome,” said Madden, who was third in the event last year. “I’ve been trying to win this for a couple of years now, so finally having the gold is great. We’re all good friends. But on the water, we all understand it’s focus time. Off the water, we can goof around, hug each other, and be happy for each other.”
The second final was the men’s youth single sculls. Defending national champion Wales went to the line as the top seed from the Saturday semifinals, but he was in a field of tough competitors, including Buchholz and Ridgewood Crew’s Anthony Criscitiello.
Off the line, Buchholz took a lead and was chased by Wales and Criscitiello. The three boats stayed in the same order, but remained tight most of the race. Buchholz pulled ahead in the last 300 meters and finished with open water in a time of 7:12.93. Wales finished second in 7:17.84 with Criscitiello behind him in third in a time of 7:18.02.
In the women’s youth double sculls final, Long Beach Juniors jumped into the lead off the line and lead the length of the course, crossing first in 7:35.81. Saugatuck Rowing Club took second in 7:39.85 and Stanford took its third medal of the morning in 7:46.20.
“We had an awesome day,” said Stanford head coach Monica Hilcu. “Ten athletes, five grand finals, one C final and three medals. It took lots of hard training and some great kids, awesome kids.”
The women’s pair event drew some pre-finals attention because the field had three boats with athletes who had won silver medals last summer in the World Rowing Senior-Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, including Georgia and Carolina Ratcliff of James Madison High School, Christine Cavallo of Orlando Area Rowing Society, and Kathryn Brown of Commencement Bay Rowing Club.
James Madison took the lead early and stayed there, pulling ahead toward the finish line and winning gold in 7:50.31. Orlando finished in 7:57.76, and Commencement Bay took third in 7:58.77.
“It was good. It was really hard, but I can trust my sister to always pull me around,” Carolina Ratcliff said. “Cavallo really had us going for a while, and in the last 500, I knew she would throw something at us, but we pulled through. In the final sprint, we brought the rating up a little bit and we were already pretty high, but it was good and we finally pulled away.”
The racing switched in the afternoon to the big boat sweep events with the lightweight women’s youth eight leading off.
Oakland Strokes Inc. was the favorite going in as the defending champions. They did not disappoint. They took the lead off the line and just kept going. Princeton National Rowing Association-Mercer Juniors got to their stern and chased in second with Wayland-Weston Rowing Association in third.
Oakland continued to open and finished with open water in 6:54.18, PNRA-Mercer was overtaken in the final 500 meters by Wayland-Weston, which took the silver in 6:59.73. PNRA-Mercer finished third in 7:00.32.
The final events of the day were the men’s and women’s youth eights. In the women’s youth eight, Marin took an early lead over the rest of their competitors. Oakland Strokes, Cincinnati Junior Rowing Club, and Saugatuck Rowing Club were closely tied for second until the second 1,000 meters.
Marin never lost their lead, winning gold in 6:41.84, followed by silver-medalists Cincinnati in 6:46.00 and Oakland in third in 6:48.71.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Marin women’s coach, Sandy Armstrong. “I wasn’t expecting the win. They are a great crew and this was our moment and we took it. I am thrilled.”
For the final race of the day, the men’s youth eight, Sarasota Crew, came out with an early lead and was nearly a boat length ahead after the first 500. Oakland Strokes and Long Beach Rowing Association fought for second until the 1,000-meter mark, when Oakland made a move and walked completely through Long Beach.
In the third 500, Marin Rowing Association and Oakland began fighting for second, with Sarasota still in the lead. Heading into the final 500 meters, Oakland walked through Marin.
Sarasota won in 5:52.99, followed by second-place Oakland in 5:55.50 and Marin in 5:57.15.
“It’s great, we had expectations for these guys because of the work we’ve put in that (winning) was a goal,” said Sarasota head coach Casey Galvanek. “We told them at the beginning of the year that they were a 5:52 crew and apparently that’s what they went today, so it was great work.
“They put in hard work and it’s hard to match. We had some ups and downs this year, but getting them back together, I knew they had it in them,” he said. “Everything that those kids have put in this year, this is what they’ve been working for. Our approach was pretty long and arduous, and hard work really does pay off.”
For complete event information visit, http://www.usrowing.org/Events/YouthNationals.aspx.
For more 2013 Youth National Championships news and features, visit http://www.usrowing.org/Events/YouthNationals/2013YNCPress.aspx.
Race clips from the finals will be available for purchase the week of June 17 at http://www.usrowing.org/Multimedia/VideoDownloads.aspx.
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