"These kids realized that this will be forever," coach Mike Brown said of the championship.
The Henley performance, four straight victories over two days, capped a magical season for the Golden Bears four, which was coming off a championship in the Scholastic Rowing Association of America's national regatta. That was the first national title for Merion, which started its rowing program in 2005.
Sunday, Merion Mercy rowed the 1,500-meter course in 5 minutes, 41 seconds to defeat the Northern Ireland crew, which comprised girls from Methodist and Portora Colleges, to reach the final of the head-to-head competition. Two hours later, facing the Lady Eleanor Holles School for the championship, the Golden Bears won by a greater distance, an additional half-length, but in a slower time, 5:48.
Showing its dominance, Merion never trailed in its four Henley races.
"I think we were all very nervous, more so in the first couple races," Lorei said. "We had absolutely no idea what to expect. We didn't know how fast the British boats and how fast the other boats were in general."
Brown said his team's biggest hurdle on high school rowing's biggest stage was overcoming the gravity of the moment. The Golden Bears did exactly that in becoming the first American crew to win the Groton Cup since 2003.
"At the start of winter workouts, Coach Brown gave us a Gaelic saying, 'The day will come,' " Jensen said. "Today was our day."
Brown, who has been involved in rowing since 1973, has been with the Golden Bears program since its inception. He also had never been to Henley, and even though any team can enter the regatta (some crews have to go through qualifying races), he mandated that a boat prove to be the best in the country before considering the international event.
Two days after his crew won at scholastic nationals, and on the day of the deadline, Brown applied to Henley.
As many U.S. teams do, Merion Mercy decided to rent a boat in England. The girls received a shell from a Wimbledon school, but the shoes in the boat were broken and duct-taped into position. The coach from Queen's University in Belfast came to the rescue, giving the crew new shoes, which were then installed.
The Henley Women's Regatta began in 1988 and is held apart from the boys' and men's event, known as the Henley Royal Regatta. St. Joseph's Prep, Malvern Prep, and the Penn Athletic Club will participate in that competition, scheduled for June 29-July 3, although qualifying races will be held Friday.