Rena White was proud to see her hard work pay off last season as she competed for the Mercer Rowing Club.
“I was just more serious, focused, and fitter,” said White, who originally joined Mercer in the spring of 2011 as an eighth grader.
“I was doing extra conditioning. In the winter, I was doing 5-7k on the erg (ergometer) before practice and 12k on the erg on Wednesdays when we have half days. I also started rowing in pairs. I am not the biggest runner but I was doing more of that. I was on the lightweight 8 and we took 3rd at nationals.”
But as Princeton High junior White came into the 2013-14 season, she and her boatmates wanted to take things to a higher level.
“We decided to make the jump into the open weights,” said White. “We got a new girl from Hun, two of the novices stepped up and a girl came over from another club.”
Earlier this month, the boat stepped up big time, taking fifth at the USRowing Youth Nationals on Lake Natoma near Sacramento, Calif., becoming the first women’s boat in club history to make the ‘A’ final in the open 8 category.
For White, shifting
position in the boat helped the crew go into overdrive.
“I was 7th seat all spring and then was moved to stroke before the regionals,” said White, who was joined in the boat by Beatrice Sclapari, Caitlin Cleary, Kate Hickey, Kelly Fischer, Badia Shehab, Hayley Bork, Alex Natale, and coxswain Noa Rothstein.
“It was tough, it was a challenge. It was good to be able to set the rhythm for the boat but it is definitely a lot of pressure.”
The Mercer 8 proved it could handle the pressure collectively as it cruised to victory in mid-May in the Mid-Atlantic Junior Championships to qualify for the nationals.
“At regionals, we won by open water,” said White. “It was a really good piece, our best race of the year to that point.”
In the weeks leading up to nationals, White could feel the boat gaining even more speed.
“We were putting up really good splits,” said White. “Our coach (Ted Sobolewski) wasn’t sure if it was tailwind or our lake. Everything started coming together and we really started going for it.”
Starting the nationals in style, Mercer took second in its first heat, trailing only eventual champion Oakland Strokes.
“We were in a really good place, everyone was really focused,” said White, reflecting on the race in which the boat clocked a time of 6:48.596 over the 2,000-meter course with Oakland just ahead in 6:47.389. “We did well enough in that heat to go straight to the semis; that was really helpful.”
In the semis, the boat placed second to secure a spot in the grand final and a shot at a national title.
“Our coach said before the final that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to leave it on the course,” recalled White.
While Mercer finished fifth in the final, White has no qualms with the result.
“We didn’t expect to medal,” said White in assessing the race which saw Mercer come in at 7:18.051, less than six seconds
away from a bronze medal.
“We surpassed expectations by making grand final. We have four lightweights and looking at the other boats, we saw how much smaller we were. It was not our best race but we were excited to be in grand final.”
In White’s view, the boat’s balance was a key factor exceeding expectations. “We are all pretty fit; we are all in the same place,” said White. “No one is really ahead or behind.”
In her senior season, White will be looking to lead the way as she was elected as a co-captain of the Mercer girls’ squad.
“That was really exciting,” said White, who also won the Mercer girls’ most valuable rower award.
“I want to lead by example and do the best I can everyday. I want kids to realize that whatever shape they are in, they can get good and have fun.”
After enjoying the ride to Lake Natoma this spring, White is looking to have even more fun next year.
“We have seven of nine people on the boat coming back; we are excited but it requires a lot of luck to make it to grand final,” said White, who is looking to row at the Division I level after high school.
“We know that because we made it this year, that doesn’t mean we will make it next year. We all want to be the best boat we can, everyone is focused.”