Better than ever.
That’s the short and simple summary of the Bainbridge Island Rowing team.
Nineteen members and three boats from the rowing club’s juniors program competed at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Regatta in Oak Ridge, Tenn. last weekend, and the athletes set a new high mark for the club.
After three days of racing June 8-10, the Bainbridge Girls Varsity 4+ finished seventh in the nation.
The Bainbridge Boys Varsity 4+ also earned seventh place.
And the Bainbridge Girls Lightweight 8+ also cracked the top 10 as one of the country’s top teams, and finished in 10th place.
The rowers advanced to nationals after the Lightweight 8+ team won the Northwest Junior Regional Championship Regatta in Vancouver, Wash. The Girls Varsity 4+ and the Boys Varsity 4+ also advanced to nationals with second-place wins in Vancouver.
Coaches for Bainbridge Island Rowing said they were proud of how the rowers performed, under conditions that could best be described as dismal at the start of the regatta.
“For them to even win regionals as well as they did, and then to go perform so well [at nationals] really speaks to their level of heart,” said coach Barb Trafton.
The teams didn’t make the semi-final cut during the first day of racing, but qualified in “repechages” early Saturday and raced in the semi-finals later Saturday.
The Bainbridge rowers then qualified for the B, or “petite,” final on Sunday.
Trafton coaches the girls juniors, and the rowers performed admirably — especially considering the team had come from 50-something degree weather to race in high heat and humidity temperatures that pushed the mercury well past 80.
“They both had fabulous sprints, it was really exciting racing,” she said.
The level of competition was as staggering as the heat, considering Bainbridge raced with “sweep” boats, rowing with one oar on one side of the boat.
“The sweep boats are the most competitive to get into at nationals,” she explained.
“For us to bring three sweep boats and perform so strongly like this was really great,” Trafton said.
Boys coach Bruce Beall said the club’s previous best at nationals was 10th place.
The Bainbridge rowers matched that, with two other boats doing even better.
It was also the first time the club had sent a boys sweep boat to the regatta.
“These guys just had a really great row to win that final,” he said.
The teams raced four times across three days, Beall noted, and the heat back east, well, there’s not much a coach in the Pacific Northwest can do about that.
“It’s hot and humid there, so there’s no way to prepare them for it. It takes a mentally strong effort to come through,” he said.
From his vantage point on the shore, the Boys Varsity 4+ race was dead-even all the way through the course, Beall said.
Beall had taken up a spot at what he figured was the crucial part in the race, at the 750-meter mark.
“That was the place where I was going to scream the loudest,” he said.
The boats traded the lead, each shell surging in front with each stroke.
“We were literally just a little bit ahead of them; it was pretty amazing,” Beall said.
The Bainbridge team was churning out 39 strokes a minute, while the other teams, 37.
The boats sped past, but Beall heard the commotion when the Bainbridge team sped past the tents that parents had set up on the shore, farther down the course.
“I could hear the parents roar, so I figured that was it,” he said.
Despite the utter exhaustion of the Bainbridge racers at the end of the regatta, it wasn’t hard for the rowers to grasp the magnitude of their accomplishments.
“Had I told them at the beginning of the year, ‘Hey, you are going to finish seventh in the nation,’ I figure they would have looked at me like I was from some other planet,” Beall said.
“There’s this feeling that we really accomplished something. It really required everyone doing their part and being on the same page all the way down the course,” he said.
“They really had to run their a race and that’s what they did.”