The idea of rowing an extra 600 meters might sound daunting, but members of the SPS boys crew are looking forward to the challenge as they prepare to compete for the Princess Elizabeth Cup (for the eight plus coxswain) and the Prince Albert Challenge Cup (for the coxed four) at Henley Royal Regatta.
The Thames Rivers course measures 2,112 meters to be exact, creating a gap between the typical New England distance of 1,500 meters. But those numbers don’t seem to concern the SPS rowers.
“I like the longer distance,” said David Lombardi ‘12. “There is so little room for error in a 1,500-meter race. The 2,000 will give us more time to find our rhythm. It’s more of a test of endurance than anything.”
No matter what the distance, St. Paul's crews have traditionally enjoyed success at Henley, considered one of rowing’s premiere events. Millville-based rowers have captured the Princess Elizabeth Cup, awarded to the junior eights champions, on three previous occasions – 1981, 1994, and 2004. Joining Lombardi in his quest for Henley glory are fellow oarsmen Christian DiGiacomo ‘13, Flurin Domenig ‘13, Joey Howard ‘13, Kyle Garland ‘12, William Denman ‘12, Malcolm Salovaara ‘13, Patrick McCarthy ‘13, Will Berry ‘12, Mac Keyser ‘12, Ryan Koo ‘11, Parker Grayson ‘11, and coxswains Martin Villanueva ‘11 and Sunik Kim ‘12. Villanueva is slated to cox the eight while Kim will cox the four. Other than those two, coach Chip Campbell has not yet determined his final lineup for the UK trip.
Rowing at Henley is a big deal for any crew – and winning is an even bigger deal. Prior to the crew's departure on June 15, Campbell has tried to prepare his troops for the atmosphere at Henley, which includes a strict dress code for spectators. He said the 2011 crew is following a tour model set in place in 1981 by legendary SPS crew coach Richard Davis. The model calls for two weeks in the UK prior to the start of Henley.
“The reason we do a three-week trip is because it gives us an opportunity to adapt to the environment, the circus of it,” explained Campbell, whose previous trips to Henley came in 1999 and 2001 during a tenure as coach at St. Mark’s School. “They establish a home base and then go out and perform. It’s a deliberate design to get the best possible outcome.”
St. Paul’s enters this year’s Henley competition fresh off a season of ups and downs. The boys have been working on a two-a-day practice schedule since exams ended on June 11. Their extra preparation is especially important since the New England Interscholastic Regatta at Worcester over Memorial Day Weekend was their most recent competitive action. Because Henley Royal does not begin until June 29 (it runs through July 4), the boys have enjoyed the benefit of extended double training sessions, which has given them time to improve technique and speed.
“It’s easier for us now that we have a chance to focus on one thing, just crew,” said DiGiacomo.
Coach Campbell calls the preparation for Henley a “five-week mini-season” and counts as one of his crew’s advantages its relative lack of experience – there are only three Sixth Formers headed to Henley to represent St. Paul’s.
“These kids will grow tremendously as athletes and as people and be challenged in ways they could not imagine,” said Campbell. “The elimination style of racing at Henley can create a lot of stress and anxiety. They are just so excited about the opportunity – it’s the advantage of inexperience.”
As a tune-up for their head-to-head races at Henley, the boys are set to compete at the Marlow Regatta on Dorney Lake in Eton on June 18 – the site of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Marlow’s format is more like Worcester’s than Henley’s in that crews are spread six or seven lanes across in a group challenge format. While not forcing the pressure of the single-elimination format of Henley, Marlow will still give the SPS crews their first taste of international racing. SPS crews have done well in the pre-Henley UK races in the past.
The Reading Town Regatta will follow on June 25, where the SPS crew will gain additional international experience. In between their practices and competitions, the SPS group will have a chance to tour some of the sites of England, including Windsor Castle and Eton College. The SPS group also is expected to enjoy the unique experience of living with a British family during the stay in Henley, which will include an SPS alumni event on June 20 for the girls and boys crews (the girls are already in the UK, preparing for their June 17 competition at Henley Women’s Regatta).
The boys also will await the announcement of their Henley competition on June 25 at the Henley Royal Regatta Draw at Henley Town Hall. Henley’s draw has been compared to a tournament bracket similar to that seen in NCAA basketball.
“Henley is the most famous regatta in the world,” said Lombardi. “It attracts the best. We are looking forward to the chance to prove ourselves against those crews.”
For more on Henley Royal Regatta (June 29-July 3), including results of the Princess Elizabeth Cup Challenge and the Prince Albert Challenge Cup, visit http://www.hrr.co.uk/