Local boats set for Henley regattas

Posted: June 15, 2012

Conestoga coach Paul Coomes noticed something special about his group of rowers before boats even entered the water this season.

The 14-year Pioneers coach hadn't seen seniors, specifically captains Ben Morosse and Ali Siegele, take control of a team that early during land training. And he certainly hadn't seen underclassmen respond so well before.

Since those early practices months ago, the team has talked about going to Henley-on-Thames for the Super Bowl of worldwide regattas that takes place every year in England, attracting the finest rowers from a variety of different levels - high schools, colleges, and international teams. It's a trip that every rower dreams of making since picking up an oar on Day 1.

The Pioneers' dream comes true this month - this weekend for a girls' competition and starting June 27 for the Royal Regatta - when they become one of three local schools (and the only to send a boys' and girls' team) to cross the pond for the prestigious race.

All-girls' school Merion Mercy sent a quad in hopes of defending last year's championship. Meanwhile, the Drexel men's team is in the final preparations of shipping two squads to England for the race.

"It's something that everyone talks about when you get started," Coomes said. "It's a goal that we work toward in terms of setting performance expectations."

The Conestoga girls left for the race Monday and will compete as a double for the Rayner Cup and as a quad for the Bea Langridge Trophy this weekend at Henley. Then they will stay and train for the main event, the Royal Regatta, June 27-July 1, before flying home July 2.

All told, the girls will spend three weeks in England. Coaches are taking turns going out for a week at a time.

Coomes has been there three times before (though never to the Royal Regatta), taking the Conestoga girls in 2003, 2006, and 2007. But this will be the first time for all the rowers involved and the first time in program history that the school will race a boys' boat.

"We'll enjoy this," Coomes said. "It's a fantastic opportunity to be able to go over there and race."

Last June, Merion Mercy took home the Groton School Challenge Cup at Henley. Two of the four rowers from that boat as well as the coxswain are back in England looking to defend the title.

Elissa Jensen, Emily Buongiorno, and coxswain Maddi Ratfield, the returning seniors from last year's championship, are joined by Giovanna Crozier-Fitzgerald and Sarah Klippel.

"We are here to win," UCLA-bound Jensen said from England. "Last year showed us that it is possible, and we have it right at our fingertips."

The Drexel men will compete at the Royal Regatta for the first time since 1972.

The Dragons have been practicing twice a day, four hours a day, for the regatta and view it more as a reward for the accomplishments of a fine season. They'll fly over next Wednesday and wrap up training in England. Drexel will send an eight and a double.

"Henley is more representative of everything," coach Paul Savell said. "This is really what we've all dreamed about for so long."

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