Vol. LXIII, No. 23
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
(Photo by S.P. Voorhees)caption:
MIGHTY LIGHTY: The Mercer Junior Rowing Clubs womens lightweight four displays its form at the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic (NEMA) Junior Regional Championships in mid-May. The boat was the top Middle Atlantic finisher in the NEMA grand final, thereby qualifying for the USRowing Youth National Championships this weekend. The boat, dubbed the Mighty Lighty, includes Princeton High senior Natalie Rizk, sophomore Meg Bailey from Hopewell Valley, freshman Reina Gabai from PHS, freshman Abby Gross of WW/P-N and PHS sophomore Maddie Alden at coxswain.
Natalie Rizk hasnt had a smooth ride in her time with the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC).
The Princeton High senior toiled hard to make her way up the ladder to the first varsity open eight, giving up swimming after seemingly being mired on the third varsity boat.
But as she finally got to the top open boat, Rizk harbored a secret ambition.
I was really hoping that we would have a lightweight boat, said Rizk, who competed for the PHS girls swimming team in her freshman and sophomore years. I honestly didnt think it would ever happen.
Then in early May, MJRC head coach Sean McCourt told his rowers that he had decided to enter a womens lightweight four in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic (NEMA) Junior Regional Championships later that month.
The boats lineup included Rizk, sophomore Meg Bailey from Hopewell Valley, freshman Reina Gabai from PHS, freshman Abby Gross of WW/P-N, and PHS sophomore Maddie Alden at coxswain.
Rizk was thrilled with the news. Meg and I were both dreaming, recalled Rizk. We wanted the lightweight four so badly and when he said it, we were so excited.
The boat, dubbed the Mighty Lighty by McCourt, channeled that excitement into instant success, placing second in its first heat at the NEMA and then finishing as the top Middle Atlantic entry in the grand final.
By virtue of that latter result, the boat qualified to compete in the 2009 USRowing Youth National Championships this weekend at Harsha Lake outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Mighty Lighties will be joined by other MJRC boats at the competition as the womens open four, mens heavyweight four, and mens lightweight four all qualified.
Rizk, for her part, is not surprised by the boats prowess, having felt an instant connection from its first training session together.
It was a great chemistry, asserted Rizk, who will be heading to Boston University but does not plan to row at college.
When we got on the water the first time, I was amazed because the boat felt even better than some of the varsity fours I had raced on this season. Meg and I were sort of nervous with two novices; I was so happy coming off the water that day.
Sophomore Meg Bailey liked the boats combination of youthful enthusiasm and Rizks know-how.
Its a nice mix, having Natalie with all of this experience and having people who are young, said Bailey. It is nice seeing them being able to learn and have these opportunities.
The lightweight four served notice that it planned to make the most of its opportunity when it rallied to take second in its first race at the NEMA regatta. The boat charged from fourth to nearly take first.
In the view of freshman Abby Gross, that performance showed the boats character.
For the first five minutes, it was pretty close and then we pulled ahead, recalled Gross. I know I pulled harder and I knew they were pulling harder. It hit me that we all really want this. We already had the heart.
Cox Maddie Alden (this reporters daughter) focused on the goal of making the nationals as she made her calls in the closing charge of that initial competition.
They had a great last 500 meters, they went all out, said Alden.
Its about the last 250. At that point, I was saying this is it, girls, if you want nationals, here is your chance, take it. We showed that we wanted it.
In the training since the regionals, the boat has continued to show its desire for excellence.
We have been together four or five weeks now, said Alden. We havent changed our lineup in the boat and that has only made us better. We are coming in as the underdog so we give 110 percent every day of the week. Every practice is technique, power, and stroke. We give it all our power each day.
In Aldens view, the steady guidance of Rizk in the stroke seat has helped keep the boat on course.
I feel like Natalie has taken on such a leadership role; no matter what is going on, she is always there to help any of us out, said Alden.
No matter when we need help on the water, she is always there. She always has an answer.
For head coach McCourt, there was little question that the lineup could develop into something special.
I think the two freshmen definitely stood out as really solid rowers, asserted McCourt.
Both the sophomores in the boat are really good for where they are as sophomores. Natalie Rizk rounds out things with the strong leadership.
In McCourts view, the boat has only scratched the surface of its potential. I think it has definitely evolved, said McCourt.
When we put it together; we knew there was something there. It wasnt immediate but you could see that OK if we give this time, it will start working. They were definitely competitive at the regional. We knew that with another three weeks training, they are going to make huge progress.
And while there is no telling how far that progress will take the boat at the nationals, just being there will help the rowers.
We want to go out there and no matter what, win or lose, we are putting our hat in the ring with the best people, added McCourt.
I think thats really the reward at the end of the day. We get to race kids from California, Florida, Washington, and everywhere in between.
Rizk, for her part, is going to enjoy the ride, no matter what the result turns out to be.
I am really excited to see what happens, said Rizk. In lightweight rowing, you just do it and whoever wants it, gets it. I was on the third varsity as a sophomore and now I get to end at nationals. It is so cool.
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