Rowers may be kidsters, but they’re serious about national championship

June 19, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

The Men’s Lightweight Eight, rowing in the water at Melton Hill Lake in Tennessee, include coxswain Gina Day, Sam Goertz, Matt Essig, Brennan Lewis, Johannes Gees, Andrew Wisegarver, Sean Allen, Max Antono and Ben Yuse. They took eighth at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships on June 10. Contributed by Sammamish Rowing Association

Listening to a group of local sophomore boys discuss packing an Xbox into their carry-on, you probably wouldn’t guess they were about to hop a plane for the Junior National Rowing Championships. But that is exactly where several local rowers were headed June 5.

“I’m feeling bouncy,” Sam Goertz said. “I’m just excited.”

The sophomore at Issaquah High School belongs to the Sammamish Rowing Association and occupies the stroke seat on the Men’s Lightweight Eight team, which was among the association’s four junior crews that competed June 8-10 at the Junior National Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Also competing in Tennessee were Karina Yalcin, a junior at Issaquah High, and Ellie Place, a 2011 graduate of Issaquah High, who both row as members of the Women’s Varsity Eight team.

Goertz and his team members gladly admit they like to joke around, but when crunch time comes, they said, the team pulls it together.

“Going to nationals, I’ve had that goal for the last three years,” said coxswain Gina Day, a senior at Skyline High School.

While she has participated in crew for more than three and a half years, this was the first year that she has directed Men’s Lightweight Eight team.

“I’m like a football coach on water — I yell, steer and fix all their little mistakes,” she said. “Keeping them focused is the biggest challenge.”

Nationals didn’t come onto the team’s radar, said crewmember Ben Yuse, a sophomore at Eastlake, until after a few local regattas earlier in the spring.

“We proved, just barely, that we are the fastest team in the Northwest,” said Yuse, referring to the April 27-29 Brentwood Regatta on Vancouver Island.

That was a good weekend for the club, which had 14 first-place finishes, including one by the lightweight boy’s team when it crossed the finish line nearly three seconds ahead of Bainbridge Island.

“That put a huge target on our back for regionals,” Yuse said.

From May 18-20, with most of the season behind them and plenty of confidence, the boys headed to Vancouver, Wash., for the Northwest Junior Regional Championships. To qualify for nationals, the team would have to finish in the top three. The Men’s Lightweight Eight team finished the 2,000-meter course in 6 minutes, 17.94 seconds, but not before Everett pulled ahead and beat them by a half boat length. Wisegarver’s scull also took second that day in the Boy’s Lightweight Double race.

“I guess you could say we got a bit cocky,” Yuse said. “It showed us we need to step it up.”

In the two weeks between regionals and leaving for Tennessee, the team focused its time on training. After two-a-day practices and extra individual attention from coaches, the crew said it felt prepared for nationals. The boys even wore several layers of clothing out of the water so that they could get used to rowing in Oak Ridge’s temperature. This time of year it is typically in the mid 80s with humidity around 90 percent.

Day said she is excited and nervous.

“Once we get into where they hold you (before the start of the race) I am probably going to sit there and panic,” she said. “Once they call start, everyone buckles down. It’s the one time they are all quiet.”

At nationals, the boys team finished eighth with a time of 7:05.4. The Women’s Varsity Eight team finished 16th in Tennessee with a final race time of 7:12.6.

Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242, or Comment at

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