BI Rowing varsity girls snag ninth at nationals

SACRAMENTO, California — It was a big weekend for Bainbridge Island Rowing, as two crews competed in the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sacramento, California, ending with impressive showings.

The boys lightweight 4+ took first place in the Northwest Youth Regional Championships four weeks prior, and the girls open weight varsity 4+ rowed their way to a coveted ranking among the top 10 boats in the nation over three days of competition, beating 12 of the 21 best crews from across the United States to capture ninth place overall in their boat class.

The boys finished in the top 20 for the fifth year in a row.

For the varsity girls, it was a classic Cinderella story from the start of the season to its exciting completion, team officials said. Although BIR has qualified for nationals the past 12 years, it had been five years since BIR sent a girls’ open-weight crew to compete.

This year, Gracie Dymoke, Julia Batson, Olivia Pells, Tessa Longley and coxswain Olivia Zachariah were determined to row at nationals after narrowly missing their chance by only six seconds in 2017.

Following a solid season in which they earned second place at the Covered Bridge Regatta in Eugene, Oregon and third place at the Brentwood Regatta in Mill Bay, British Columbia, they ultimately took fourth place in the Northwest Youth Regional Competition in Vancouver, Washington May 20.

After holding second or third place for most of the final race at regionals, they were overtaken in the final stretch by Sammamish Rowing, which edged them out by a mere 1.68 seconds.

Sammamish’s victory ensured their own opportunity to compete at nationals and potentially put an end to the BIR open-weight girls’ spring season. But, given their strong performance at earlier regattas and the close finish at regionals, the BIR girls petitioned for and were offered a chance to compete on the big stage.

“Entering nationals as a petition crew definitely gave us a sense of being an underdog,” Batson said. “That gave us even more of a drive to prove what we’re capable of.”

Going into last weekend’s competition, the BIR girls were seated 19th overall.

Their first challenge came in Friday morning’s qualifying event, officials said, as they competed to earn a spot in the semifinals. All teams rowed the 2000-meter course individually for time. The eight fastest crews automatically moved on to the semifinals and enjoyed an afternoon of rest before racing again on Saturday.

Boats 9-20 were required to race once more on Friday afternoon in one of two head-to-head heats, with the top two boats in each heat automatically advancing to the semifinals and the bottom four in each moving to the C finals.

BIR placed 11th in Friday morning’s time trials, so they had to race again in the head-to-head qualifiers on Friday afternoon.

The competition was fierce, but BIR led the pack for the entire race, earning the girls a coveted spot in the semifinals.

“We didn’t really know what to expect as far as placement going into this week,” Pells said. “But after our time trial, we started to realize we could make the top 10.”

The conditions were near-idyllic on Saturday morning as the BIR girls raced against five of the top crews in the country, officials said. It was tough going that day, and they ended up placing sixth in their semifinal heat, qualifying them for the B finals, alongside Mountain Lakes Rowing and Asheville Youth Association.

By the time the B finals began at on Sunday, a decent headwind had developed. Fortunately, team officials said, the BIR girls are used to rowing in the often-windy weather and choppy waters of Eagle Harbor, where they train.

Early in the race, all six boats were almost even. At the 500-meter mark, Asheville began to make a move and took the lead. Close behind was Nobles Rowing, with the remaining four boats at least a full length behind the leader. Approaching the 1000-meter mark, Asheville and Robles opened their leads further, and it became a race for third place, with BIR holding the fifth-place position, half a length out of fourth.

Then the BIR girls started to make their move and challenge the other boats.

Coming into the last

200 meters, Greater Lawrence still had a slight lead over BIR, but the girls poured everything they had into their final sprint and edged into third place by 0.7 seconds. With their third-place win, they achieved their goal of placing in the single digits, capturing the title of ninth in the nation.

“I knew we had it when I turned over at the 1100-meter mark,” Zachariah said. “From there on out, it was all about motivating them to row the race they needed to race to achieve our goal. From a coxswain’s perspective, it was all about keeping our heads and hearts in the game until the very last second.”

“We had set the goal of going to Nationals early in the fall season,” Longley agreed. “We worked our butts off every day, and it paid off in every way imaginable.”