PENNSAUKEN - Despite the ongoing construction and the inconveniences it brings, the Cooper River will come alive Saturday when it hosts the Garden State Scholastic Rowing Championships.
Traditionally the first of the local championship regattas, the GSSRC will have 280 entries from 35 schools throughout the state. Every one of them will have two goals in mind: one is climbing atop the victory podium and the other goal is qualifying for the SRAA National Championships on Mercer Lake during Memorial Day weekend.
The preseason has been rough on rowing as it has been on just about every spring sport which depends on the weather. Only four of the five Manny Flick races were run and the Schuylkill River didn’t always provide ideal racing conditions for the others. That just means no team has a decided advantage headed into Saturday.
For the schools rowing out of the Cooper River Boathouse, this is an opportunity to make use of that “home field advantage” and turn it into medal runs in the finals.
Rich Henderson, the head coach of the Moorestown Rowing Club, one of those Cooper River clubs, will have 10 boats entered and he says his team is excited and ready.
“It’s a big deal to have trials and finals,” he said. “It’s our home river. It’s the first chance to race for medals and the first chance to qualify for nationals.”
Henderson said pretty much all of his team's boats have been racing well in the preseason. Among the more notable performances were the boys’ novice four, which had the fastest overall time among New Jersey boats at the 5th Flick, and the girls’ novice four which had the second fastest time.
“Our boats are seeded in the middle of the medal hunt.” Henderson said. “The objective is to qualify as many boats as possible in the finals and get as many as we can to medal.”
Another local club, Haddonfield, has 12 entries which is a record.
“We’re pretty excited,” Haddonfield coach Tim Hagan said. “Our boats are pumped. Our varsity eight boats are doing well. We’re excited about that. Our goal is to medal of course but also to qualify for nationals. We want to try and get as many boats as we can medal on Saturday.”
Last year, St. Augustine Prep and the Holy Spirit girls' team each won the same three races – senior 8, lightweight 8 and second 8. Holy Spirit did well during the Manny Flick races and St. Augustine has been improving steadily.
“We didn’t start racing until the fourth Flick and in the fifth one, the conditions were horrible,” said St. Augustine Prep coach Ray D’Amico. “It was like rowing in the ocean. But we did pretty well in the (Lake Lenape Invitational.) “Our varsity eight is pretty solid, our jayvee eight, frosh and novice eights are also pretty good.”
D'Amico said Holy Spirit will be the number one seed in the varsity eight race and the Spartans have earned that top billing with a strong showing in the Flick races.
Trials will get underway at 8 a.m. with finals slated to begin at 1:24. The weather forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of 71. If the winds are minimal it should be a great day for racing.
Charlie Sprang is a reporter for South Jersey Sports Digest. He can be reached at email@example.com.