By KEITH McMILLAN
LORTON — The rain came, went away and came back again, but it didn’t seem to bother the 1,500 or so rowers at the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships on the Occoquan Reservoir on Saturday. It apparently didn’t affect their supporters either, as onlookers simply broke out a colorful array of umbrellas and stayed until the exciting end of the season’s biggest event to date.
The day, which began before 6 a.m. for many of the participants and volunteers, came to an exciting climax in the 57th event on the schedule, the 3:50 p.m. boys first eight final.
Amid a light drizzle, Woodbridge and West Springfield battled for second place through the first 1,000 meters of the 1,500-meter course, trailing Thomas Jefferson. The Vikings led by a couple of seats at they approached the Sandy Run Regional Park grandstands, but the Spartans overtook Woodbridge in the last 250 for second place.
From land, at least one hung head on the Viking boat was visible, and another rower slapped the water. But by the time they reached the awards dock to receive their bronze medals, the disappointment seemed to turn to pride.
“We were hoping we could nip West Springfield,” said Woodbridge boys coach Tom Moulen after handing medals to his eight, receiving a big hug from coxswain Chase Phillips and posing for the customary awards dock photos.
“We don’t have the depth a lot of the other programs have,” he said. “We’re really happy we can [stay] with the big boys coming out of your every day, average public school.”
Moulen says participation is declining in the Viking program. They plan to row eights at the metro area championships, then row fours at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta and national championships.
For the Vikings’ top boat, which finished second in the state last season, the bronze medals marked their fourth consecutive top three VSRC finish.
Thomas Jefferson won its fifth straight state championship in 4:43.5. On the first eight are two Prince William residents, Mike Hull and Pierce Umbarger, who both attend the Science & Technology school in Alexandria.
Two lightweight boats from county schools also medaled.
Hylton’s lightweight four finished second to Christ Church’s third four in a blended race.
“We’re the best lightweights,” laughed Mike Hinz, even though the medal draped around his neck was silver.
Mike’s brother Matthew, also a member of the four, said the medal was the best he’d ever received.
That the boat, which also included Johan Perssen, Brent Protacio and coxswain Alex Talley, finished so well was somewhat unexpected. Until last week, the crew had been rowing as part of Hylton’s top eight.
“We got started off as a varsity eight,” said Mike Hinz. “On spring break, we broke down into fours.”
“We were just looking to make the boats more competitive,” Matthew Hinz added.
The group says they came together on Saturday, but they aren’t a normal four and coxswain. Besides the brothers, Perssen is a Swedish exchange student, Protacio converted to rowing from coxing earlier this season and Talley double-coxed on Saturday.
Though it was chilly much of the afternoon, Protacio praised the weather as “so much nicer than any other day this season.”
“It’s our first race without rain,” added Perssen.
Though one of their rowers had to shed a pound and a half to make the 132-pound lightweight limit early in the morning, Woodbridge’s lightweight girls capped their day with a silver-medal performance.
It was nearly a gold-medal effort, as the Vikings led both T.C. Williams and Thomas Jefferson as they approached the grandstands. The Titans surged ahead late in the race, but the three-way finish was still nearly too close to call with the naked eye. T.C. won in 5:40.2, Woodbridge finished second in 5:40.9 and TJ came in at 5:41.8.
“It was the last 250,” said coxswain Laura Tuteral. “We were there.”
“We were dead even for so long,” added Andrea Greco. “We held them off long than we ever have.”
Tuteral called their morning heat “less than stellar,” but said their performance in the final gave them confidence for the metro area championships in two weeks.
“We’ll hopefully [be back here] with gold,” said Jessi Rupnik.
Megan Fila, Carol Hinrichsen, Ashley David, Julie Bales, Rosalyn Schmitt and Lauren Brooks round out the eight.
Among Saturday’s other highlights for Prince William crews: Woodbridge’s girls first eight, Potomac’s girls first four and Hylton’s boys first four each won their petite, rowing’s form of a consolation race. Gar-Field’s boys first, second and lightweight fours each made finals, as did Hylton’s boys lightweight eight, Woodbridge’s boys second eight, Potomac’s second four and Forest Park’s third four.
The Bruins also had a boys eight take second in a boys fourth/novice eight race, while Woodbridge finished first and Forest Park third in a girls fourth/novice eight race.
After Saturday’s results are combined with those from the Sen. Charles Percy Championships for Washington D.C. and Maryland schools, the 18 crews with the best times qualify for the May 10 National Capital Area Scholastic Rowing Championships, often referred to as “metros.”
Also, the top six junior fours and top four freshman finishers from Saturday qualified for the May 23-24 national championships in Camden, N.J.
For complete results from Saturday’s championships, visit www.ncasra.org.