Penn AC Still Hungry After Going Undefeated on 2017 Club Racing Circuit

by: Cara Stawicki

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CanHen M4x
James Garay (left), Chris Shirley, Chris Reich and Charles Anderson winning Henley Gold in the Men’s Quad.

Two things were clear at the close of the 2017 summer club-racing season: Penn AC’s open men established dominance in the team boat events, and its athletes are hungry for more.

Penn AC grabbed early season wins in the men’s quadruple sculls at home at the Schuylkill Navy Regatta, June 17, and Independence Day Regatta, June 30 to July 2. The club continued its run at the USRowing Club National Championships, held July 12 to July 16 in Bethel, Ohio, where it finished first and second in the men’s elite/senior quad, ahead of the New York Athletic Club, Potomac Boat Club, Queen City and OKC’s High Performance Center.

It then capped off the season with Henley Gold at the 135th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, held August 8 to August 13 on Martindale Pond in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Penn AC’s crew finished ahead of Riverside Boat Club, Undine Barge Club and three Canadian-based crews for the win, which solidified an undefeated record in summer club racing this year.

“This is directly in line with what I set out to accomplish with this program,” said Sean Hall, head coach of Penn AC’s High Performance Group.

“Since we’ve essentially moved away from sweep, it has become paramount that Penn AC establish early on sculling dominance in major domestic regattas and Canadian Henley,” Hall said.

Charles Anderson (Upper Darby, Pa.; Temple University), Chris Shirley (St. Louis, Mo.; University of Minnesota) and James Garay (East Leroy, Mich.; University of Michigan) anchored the boat at all four regattas, noting lessons and making improvements as the season progressed.

“Communication is key,” said Anderson, when asked about his biggest take-away from the summer. “The quad is a hard boat to row. We started figuring out how to move the boat together, which led us to being able to jump in and win some races.”

“The biggest thing that improved was communication within the boat,” he continued. “That led us to figuring out what was slowing the boat down in a constructive manner, and then attempting to fix the problem as a boat instead of trying to row it as individuals.”

“The quad was the priority this summer,” said Shirley. “Everyone wanted and thought they should be in the boat. It’s great when everyone is working hard to fill spots in team boats,” he said.

Anderson, Shirley and Garay were joined by Theo Pritz at the Schuylkill Navy Regatta; Nathan Lado at the Independence Day Regatta and USRowing Club Nationals; and Chris Reich (Bronxville, N.Y.; Fordham University) at Canadian Henley.

In the men’s double sculls, Shirley and Garay nearly matched their success in the quad. The crew won the open double at Schuylkill Navy and IDR, and then grabbed a set of wins at Club Nationals, first in the intermediate and then the elite/senior event. In Canada, Shirley and Garay finished fourth and fell one race short of an undefeated record in a second event.

At Nationals, two more Penn AC boats, plus a Penn AC/Vesper composite, backed up Shirley and Garay’s win in the elite/senior double. The crew of Lado and Anderson took second; Nick Goode (Vesper) and David Judah (Fairmount, Ga.; Georgia Institute of Technology) took third; and Thaddeus Babiec (Alexandria, Va.; Boston University) and Reich took fifth.

Despite the success, or perhaps because of it, Penn AC’s men are clearly hungry for more.

“I’ve got some pretty lofty goals for this upcoming year,” said Shirley. “I’d love to shave off another five- to 10-seconds on my 2k. This past year I took off almost 12-seconds. I’m excited to see what I can achieve but this time around I’ll be one hundred percent dedicated to rowing now that I’ve established myself in Philly.”

“I think it might be a slight stretch but I’d like to make the quad for the World Cup next summer,” he continued. “My main priority/reasonable goal is to get down a race plan in order to maximize my speed. I also want to improve my technique.”

Anderson shared Shirley’s national team sentiment.

“Going and winning all the races we entered felt like a stepping stone. I was very happy with the results throughout the summer in the quad. The goal for all the guys training is to make the national team and I feel like this was a good start for three young guys who were the base for the quad all summer,” he said.

In terms of next year, Hall said he’s looking to restructure Penn AC’s program in a way that would enable development athletes to produce these same victories on the club scene, while continuing to push for better and higher performance from the top athletes.

“Tokyo is three years away, which is actually very little time to elevate athletes to truly international caliber,” he said. “But our core is definitely getting bigger and more experienced.”

Written by Cara Stawicki, carastawicki@gmail.com.

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