This weekend, Madison High School Crew Coach Paul Allbright will find himself in the same spot he was a year ago: Coming off a state championship win and gunning for a medal in the prestigious Stotesbury Cup Regatta, a race held each year on the Schuylkill River that draws more than 5,000 high school rowers and 10,000 spectators from around the world.
But this time, getting to the race as a nationally recognized team is exactly where his team expected to be. And they're ready, he said.
When the girls' first and second eight boats captured , their speed and agility in the water took the rowers by surprise, Allbright said.
But this year, with experience under their belt and much of that same core in tact — six rowers remain from the winning boat — cruising to first place is now a systematic routine, one to which they hold themselves accountable, Allbright said this week days , along with the Women's Governor's Award for 2012.
“We went into [last season] saying, 'It would be really cool if we could go up there and place in states, win in states,'" Allbright said. "Now, the mentality is, we should be able to be up there getting a medal, we should be able to continue an undefeated streak. And I think that's a little more confidence that they've got that has helped take them to the next level.”
Allbright's strategy can sometimes be seen as a bit unconventional. While he has a strong core of veterans on each years boats, they aren't necessarily seniors, or even juniors. Some coaches may be quick to stack their boats with upperclassmen, but Allbright's first eight boat has three seniors, three sophomores and two juniors; he moved a senior down a level in one race and moved up a sophomore novice stroking in another.
The thought, which Allbright has used for the past three years, is to create a consistent pipeline into the same racing plan and strategy — when one spot opens, because of graduation or injury, there is always someone else that can fill it, he said.
“If we can keep the culture going, the novice freshman that come in, that's all they'll know and they'll be excited to plug into it too," he said.
While the girls program tends to attract the spotlight — their first eight boat has remained undefeated in VASRA for the past two consecutive seasons — the boys squad, though not always on the first place podium, hit several new milestones this year, too.
Allbright said last season, the men often didn't race in more competitive first and second eight boats competitions, only entering light, junior or novice boats. This year, both first and second eight boats were able to place consistently. While St. Alban's of Washington, D.C. usually takes first place, the No. 2 through No. 5 spots were up for grabs all season, the teams separated by at times no more than two seconds, he said.
They also qualified for the National Rowing Championships in New Jersey on their own merit for the first time.
“In 10 years they've never done that,” Allbright said. “I'm trying to get the boys rowing team to understand that they did take the men's program to a new level and got a lot more respect from the rowing community for doing as well as they did.”
Madison is one of several Virginia teams preparing to row at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, a race that dates back to 1927. Today, the race is the largest high school rowing event in the world, with 28 championship events.
The race is much different than those VASRA rowers find on the Occoquan: the current is different, the territory unfamiliar and the weather unpredictable — elements that on a good day can shave seconds from a boat's finish, but on a bad one, slow it down for a crushing loss, Allbright said.
Last year, Allbright said, women's boats from Madison and T.C. Williams High Schools earned medals for fourth and fifth place at the regatta, allowing Virginia to have two spots among the race's top five.
“It really helped put Virginia on the map,” Allbright said. “The speed in this area has grown enormously in the last few years.”
On the women's side, Madison's biggest threat from this region will be the National Cathedral School(D.C.), along with Thomas Jefferson and T.C. Williams High schools, whose programs Allbright called “perennial powerhouses” in Virginia.
For the men, St. Alban's, Washington and Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Madison and TC Williams High School will all be in a close race for one of the top spots — Yorktown could become a wild card because of the speed it has gained in the last few weeks, Allbright said.
But unlike at the state meet, where teams go hand to hand for the same medal, part of a meet like Stotesbury is representing your region and edging boats from other areas of the country out of the running.
“There'd be nothing greater than to have all Virginia boats in the final,” Allbright said. “It's a little local community [here in Virginia] where we all support each other.”
“I always make a point to cheer for local teams … as long as we can remain ahead of them,” he added with a laugh.
The Stotesbury Cup Regatta takes place May 18 and May 19. Patch will have results after the race.
Some of the rowers hoping to place:
Women's 1st 8:
8-Genny Lawless (Sr)
7-Georgia Ratcliff (Jr)
6-Carolina Ratcliff (So)
5-Caroline Williams (Jr)
4-Laura Preston (Sr)
3-Caroline Comey (Sr)
2-Zoe Kalousis (So)
1-Grace Williams (So)
Cox-Spencer Hiday (Sr)
Women's 2nd 8:
8-Marissa Patrick (So)
7-Hannah Brown (Jr)
6-Mary Rose McAndrews (Sr)
5-Lexy Shannon (Jr)
4-Karen Munyan (Jr)
3-Shannon Lawless (So)
2-Jessica Cammiso (So)
1-Kaitlin Carlisle (Sr)
Cox-Sarah Voigt (Jr)
Men's 1st 8:
8-Matt Weiner (Jr)
7-David Mottola (Jr)
6-Robert Bussmann (Sr)
5-David Ritter (Sr)
4-Thomson Rymer (So)
3-Esteban Diaz (Sr)
2-Gavin Hoffman (So)
1-Timmy Springsteen (Jr)
Cox-Amanda Marx (Sr)