PNRA/Mercer Rowers Excel at Youth Nationals, Earning Medals in Two Women’s Grand Finals
Coming up big on the national stage, the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club (PNRA/Mercer) rowers won a silver medal in the Women’s Youth Eight plus coxswain event and a bronze medal in the Women’s Youth Lightweight Eight plus coxswain event earlier this month at the USRowing Youth National Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida.
The national championship regatta featured more than 1700 athletes from 163 clubs and high school rowing programs from 30 states competing in 18 sweep rowing and sculling categories.
The women’s open eight trailed early in the Grand Final but moved into third place behind Saugatuck Rowing Club (Conn.) and Holy Names Academy (Wash.) half way through the 2000-meter race. Just before the 1500-meter mark, PNRA/Mercer pulled ahead of Holy Names and continued to gain on Saugatuck through the last 500 meters. As the race ended, PNRA/Mercer clinched the silver medal spot, missing the National Championship by less than 1.4 seconds as it clocked a time of 6:35.960 with Saugatuck coming in at 6:34.599.
Senior star Rena White credited PNRA/Mercer head coach Ted Sobolewski with providing the vision that helped inspire the boat to reach new heights.
“When Coach Ted came to coach Mercer in fall of 2012, he told us our goal is to win a medal in the premier Women’s Youth Eight event, even though we never even had a girl’s eight crew reach the Grand Final at Nationals,” said team co-captain White, a senior at Princeton High who will be rowing at Stanford University in the fall. “It seemed like a really lofty goal at the time, but we achieved it within three years.”
In addition to White, the crew included co-captain senior Hayley Bork (Robbinsville High) who will row at UCLA in the fall, senior Alex Natale (The Hun School) who will row at the University of Virginia in the fall, seniors Kelly Fischer who will row at the University of Notre Dame next year and Badia Shehab who will row at the University of Tennessee in the fall (both from Hopewell Valley Central High), juniors Kate Hickey (Notre Dame High) and Caitlin Cleary (Princeton High School), sophomore Katie Lustig (Council Rock North High) and coxswain senior Kate Edmondson, who will cox at the University of Miami in the fall.
The women’s lightweight eight also battled to the end in taking bronze, trailing the second place finisher Oakland Strokes by only 0.4 seconds. Saugatuck took first in a time of 6:48.229 with Oakland next in 6:52.055 and Mercer third in 6:52.454.
Rowers in PNRA/Mercer’s lightweight eight included senior Hannah Ash (Princeton High) who will swim for Occidental College in the fall, freshman Sara Hansen and junior Eileen Hu (both from WW/P-S), juniors Elise Gorberg (WW/P-N), Jenna Kugel (Montgomery High), as well as sisters junior Kathryn Miller and sophomore Lauren Miller (Steinert High) and sophomore Celia Varga (Princeton Day School).
In reflecting on the boat’s bronze medal performance, coxswain Katarina Stough said it was the product of a competitive mindset.
“Coach Ted has instilled a winning attitude in all of us, which is something that I will carry with me in all aspects of my life” said Stough, a PHS senior who will cox for Georgetown University next year.
Stough provided leadership for the lightweight crew which included several underclassmen competing at the national level for the first time. Rounding out the girls’ accomplishments at Youth Nationals, PNRA/Mercer finished 13th in the nation in Women’s Youth Four with coxswain category.
The PNRA/Mercer boys are seeing their own progress under first-year coach Justin Ochal, a collegiate teammate of Sobolewski’s at Northeastern University. PNRA/Mercer finished 11th in the nation in the Men’s Youth Eight with coxswain category and finished 12th in the nation in the Men’s Youth Lightweight Four with coxswain.