CHAMPS: Boys crew wins national title

Chloe Fatsis and Elie Salem

Senior Seb Murrell’s heart was pounding and his body ached, but all he could think about was the next stroke. It was the biggest regatta of the year, and everything was on the line. Pausing between breaths, Murrell peeked out of the boat, coming to the exhilarating realization that their boat was ahead. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

The boat’s coxswain, senior Natalia Facchinato-Sitja, shouted from her seat at the front of the boat that they were in first. Visibly excited by the prospect of a national championship, the team rowed harder than ever, and the boat glided forward. “I don’t think I have ever seen them row with more power and determination then they did in those last 400 meters,” Facchinato-Sitja said.

Countless mornings, afternoons, and weekends spent erging and practicing had finally paid off: The boys varsity boat zoomed across the finish line a second ahead of their rival, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, claiming the national title. To follow rowing tradition, the team threw Facchinato-Sitja in the lake, then proceeded to jump in themselves.

The Scholastic Rowing Association of America (SRAA) Championships took place at Dillon Lake, Ohio from Friday, May 24 to Saturday, May 25. On Friday, there were various qualifiers for the semifinals. On Saturday, the Wilson boys varsity boat finished third in the semifinals, which was enough for them to move on to the Grand Finals, which they proceeded to win. Other Wilson boats placed highly in the Grand Finals as well, with the girls freshman boat finishing fourth and the boys lightweight boat placing fifth. The two girls varsity boats and the boys varsity boat of four were eliminated earlier in the regatta.

Ironically, the now-national champions didn’t even officially qualify for the regatta. In the regional championship, which serves as the qualifier for the SRAA regatta, Wilson’s boys varsity boat finished third, just missing out on a guaranteed spot nationals. But they, along with five other Wilson boats, petitioned to compete in the SRAAs, and got one.

The regatta was among the most prestigious of the year. The USRowing Youth National Championships, the SRAAs’ counterpart, is the same weekend as prom, so only one of the three boats that qualified will attend the regatta.

Boys crew coach Joe McMullin wasn’t expecting the team to be crowned national champions, but believes the rigorous season prepared them for the competition. “We were an underdog; no one really knew who we were and we didn’t really know how fast we could go, but we had some of the strongest athletes at the regatta,” he said.

The rowers didn’t foresee a win, either. “I wanted to get third place. I wanted to bring home something shiny,” Murrell said. “I didn’t think that I’d be able to get first place, so it’s just a crazy feeling.”

For captain Rory Hagerty, the win was a culmination of years of dedication to the sport. “I’ve been rowing since eighth grade, at Deal and Wilson I had to wake up early two or three times a week depending on what year it was, [and I do] a lot of erging… and [spend] a lot of time getting out on the water,” he said.

The girls freshman and boys lightweight boats were also happy with their results, though they were not entirely expected either. “[Our coach] didn’t anticipate us to actually make it into the Grand Final,” junior and coxswain of the boys lightweight boat Felix Garland said. “We ended up doing well, so it was pretty surprising.” Head of Rowing Chris Rickard added that the girls freshman boat’s fourth place finish was the best that boat had ever done in the SRAAs. “It’s a really big accomplishment,” he said.