BY LUKE REYNOLDS
PHOTO PROVIDED BY TEXAS ROWING CENTER
The 2020 USRowing Youth Virtual National Championship has concluded after more than 1,000 athletes from 119 clubs submitted their times in hopes of a first-place finish and the title of National Champion.
Greenwich Crew took home the points trophy with nine total points from 17 entries, including three first-place finishes in the men’s lightweight eight, the women’s lightweight eight, and the women’s U17 eight.
“It was hard,” Heidi Hunsberger, Greenwich Crew women’s co-head coach, said. “There wasn’t a youth nationals and youth regionals plan right away in April. It really came after everything was canceled.”
“We tried to focus on regionals first and foremost and then we as a team thought it would be fun to get as many people to go on to youth nationals as possible and keep motivated and training by doing that.”
Catherine Starr, women’s co-head coach said a lot of the focus on training leading up to the event was to make sure the athletes were, simply, having a good time.
“The plan was to try and keep it as fun as possible for as long as possible,” Starr said. “We definitely wanted them to learn some lessons along the way about independence and having goals and things but at the end of the day we really just wanted to make sure they come back this summer or next year.”
In addition to having fun and overcoming the challenges of training independently, the women’s coaches of Greenwich Crew all agree that leadership from the older athletes and a team made up of athletes who were truly devoted to the sport led to their ultimate success.
“They’re just a really amazing group of athletes,” Starr said. “They’re really good people.”
“Each class stepped up at different times,” Hunsberger added. “It was nice to see our seniors led at the beginning of this. They were really positive and they did a great job of staying on task and staying really positive. I think they inspire the younger kids as well.”
Greenwich women’s novice head coach, Paul Ruggeberg, felt the leadership made a difference for the group of novices he coaches.
“It is always nice to have that leadership from the top-down,” Ruggeberg said. “With the novices, they’re in a particularly challenging situation because this is their first real season where they’re learning how to race and they’re learning how to train but having the support of the varsity team and some of the older athletes definitely helped them feel a sense of direction in their training.”
“I can’t say it enough, the athletes are the ones that did the work,” Ruggeberg said. “This group of athletes is incredible. It was a joy to coach them even throughout the tough situation.”
Sarasota Crew took the top spot in both the men’s youth eight and the women’s youth eight, finishing fifth in team points.
In the second team points position was Texas Rowing Center (TRC). TRC locked down the runner-up slot with seven total points, two points behind Greenwich.
The crew, coming off a team points trophy win at the 2020 USRowing Virtual Central Youth Regional Championship, and based out of Austin, Texas, chalked their success up to hard work and perseverance.
“It was pretty challenging,” TRC juniors head coach Falesha Thrash said. “I’m sure everyone can attest to that. Once we heard about virtual regionals we organized ourselves and we wrote out an expedited training plan to cover three weeks.”
“They [TRC athletes] definitely put in a lot of effort and not just the leading two months up to it. It’s still rewarding to them to push themselves in a very different kind of challenging setup and circumstances. We saw the peaks and valleys in the short term training. It was definitely a mental game for them but in the end, it paid off.”
Despite the obstacles, the TRC athletes remained optimistic and made the best of the 2020 USRowing Youth National Championships being canceled and replaced by a virtual event by adapting to it — no matter how different it looked.
“We were able to get into a Row Fitness facility here to do the 2k,” Thrash said. “They had glass privacy partitions between each station so we set up different times to limit the number of people and they spread out on the ergs and did their 2k. I didn’t really expect that many athletes to really bite on the chance to do this but they were so eager to do something that resembled anything normal so that’s what we did.”
“The effort was felt all around both squads [men and women] and of course we came together for a successful virtual regatta; winning virtual centrals and second at virtual nationals. It certainly doesn’t carry the same weight as if we had raced on the water, but is still important to those who put in the effort, especially our seniors.”
A full list of results from the 2020 USRowing Youth Virtual National Championship is available at RegattaCentral.com.