Nine athletes from Penn AC’s High Performance Group travelled to Europe to compete as part of the Schuylkill Navy High Performance Collaborative (SNHPC). Boats representing the Collaborative included a lightweight women’s quad, and men’s open single, double and quad. The squad, led by Sean Hall, Head Coach of Penn AC’s High Performance Group, kicked off the trip in Amsterdam where it raced Holland Beker—the biggest international regatta in The Netherlands.
On the women’s side, the crew of Kathryn Schiro (Huntsville, Ala.; Oklahoma City University), Cara Stawicki (Wall, N.J.; Lehigh University), Kristen Propst (Honesdale, Pa.; Lafayette College) and Jen Sager (Glenside, Pa.; Trinity College) clocked 6:38.66 in the A Final on Day One of the two-day event, finishing second behind Great Britain. On Day Two, the crew raced in windy conditions and clocked an almost identical time of 6:38.44, finishing third in the A Final behind Great Britain (1st) and The Netherlands (2nd).
“Every race we learned a lot in terms of how to conduct ourselves around the course, during the race and after the race. Every race we got faster and felt more together,” said Sager, who recently completed a year of study at Oxford Brookes University in England. “For me, I got to race against friends of mine who row for [Great Britain] so to actually get the chance to see them and then go head-to-head was awesome.”
On the men’s side, Penn AC’s Greg Ansolabehere (Bakersfield, Calif.; California State University, Sacramento) and Justin Keen (Hatfield, Pa.; Penn State University) teamed up with Malta Boat Club’s Lenny Futterman (New York, N.Y.; Boston University) and Vesper Boat Club’s JP Kirkegaard (DeForest, Wis.; Purdue University) in the quad. The crew clocked 5:44.40 in the A Final on Day One, finishing second behind Leander Club of Great Britain. On Day Two, racing in tailwind conditions similar to Day One, the crew crossed the line in 5:43.47, finishing third in the A Final behind The Netherlands (1st) and Leander Club (2nd).
Erik Frid (Madbury, N.H.; Ithaca College) and Luke Wilhelm (Miranda, Calif.; University of California, Santa Barbara), winners at NSR2 in May, went back to work in the men’s double, testing their speed for the first time abroad. Similar to the men’s and lightweight women’s quads, the double raced two separate events—one Saturday and one Sunday. On Saturday, the crew finished third in its heat to advance to the A Final, where it placed fifth in a time of 6:29.56. On Sunday, the crew started the day strong with a win in its heat and third fastest time overall. It closed out the weekend placing fourth in the A Final in a time of 6:26.78, an improvement on the result from the previous day.
“Amsterdam was a rough experience, jumping off the plane and strapping in,” said Wilhelm. “It was a classic scenario where we could easily make a lot of excuses about new equipment, adjusting to the time difference, windy conditions, finding food that we would want to eat, etc. But the reality is that we need to learn how to race whenever we’re asked to line ‘em up.”
“The goal should be that anytime I sit at the start, I can be competitive,” he continued. “With that lesson, when we lined-up in Lucerne, we were more ready to race.”
Racing the men’s single, Will Purman (Boston, Mass.; University of Delaware) worked his way through heats and repechages on Saturday before taking fourth in the C Final on Sunday for a 14th place finish overall.
With racing on the Bosbaan complete, the team packed up and made it’s way to the Oberschleißheim Regatta Course – the site of the 1972 Olympics – in a town nearby Munich, Germany. In Germany, the lightweight women were primarily focused on improving technique and gaining boat speed while the men were preparing for World Cup III in Lucerne.
“First of all, the course was awesome,” said Sager. “The water was perfect and crystal clear. Secondly, it was just nice to be away from outside job pressures and in training bubble for a week. Instead of feeling pressure to rush from training to the office, rowing was 100 percent my job and my focus. It was also just fun to take our time finding speed and getting to jump in the lake and cool off after training,” she said.
“At this level, it’s all about gaining international racing experience and rehearsing your race routine,” said Ansolabehere.” The SN HPC trip to Europe was essential in building that experience. Lining up next to international crews, living in a foreign country and adapting your training to suit isn’t something we can recreate here, so traveling and living that experience was invaluable.”
At the close of the week in Munich, the lightweight women’s quad returned home to recover and prepare for selection camp for the boat racing World Championship Trials in August. The men travelled to Lucerne, Switzerland, where they lined up against a stronger field of international crews at World Cup III. The men’s quad placed fifth in the B Final with a time of 6:03. The men’s double placed third in the C Final with a time of 6:31. Will Purman, competing for Puerto Rico, placed 2nd in the E Final in the men’s single with a time of 7:16.
“When we lined up in Lucerne, we were more ready to race [compared to Amsterdam],” said Wilhelm. “The difference was that at the World Cup, there is some strategy to be used to navigate through the progression. Obviously we want to go out and race our fastest every time down the course, but that takes a huge toll when racing the best.”
“I think rowing is one of those brutally honest sports where it just comes down to how fast you are,” he added. “We need to get fitter and faster. Boat speed is king and while Erik and I are pretty strong guys, we need to find a way to make the boat go faster.”
“My biggest take-a-way from this experience was that we need to look at our development in terms of the big picture and relentlessly hone our training,” said Ansolabehere. “Men’s sculling in the US might not have the same resources at its disposal as other more accomplished countries in the sport but we have the same type talented and driven athletes who want nothing more than to represent their country at the highest level. Competing on an international stage put things into perspective and made me want to become a better athlete. The bar has been raised, now we must respond.”
“This training and racing opportunity is a step in the right direction,” he added. “The Schuylkill Navy showed great foresight and faith in us when it decided to make this trip possible. The only way to get international racing experience is to do it! The Schuylkill Navy is helping us start the quadrennial right and for that I am very grateful.”
Sager shared the sentiment.
“It was an awesome experience!” she said. “I am just incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity and support from Penn AC and the Schuylkill Navy this summer. Our eyes are set on racing World Championships. Having this opportunity gave us a check of where we are and where we need to be that we might not have had in the States.”
For personal accounts of the Schuylkill Navy HPC’s trip to Europe, check out “No Wasted Water” by Cara Stawicki and “Schuylkill Navy’s Erik Frid Prepares for World Cup III,” by Erik Frid.
Next up are World Championship Trials set for August 6-9 in Princeton Junction, N.J. All crews will compete for the right to represent the United States at the 2017 World Rowing Championships, September 24 – October 1, in Sarasota, Fla.