Sacramento — In a stellar performance at the California Southwest Junior Regional Championships in Sacramento last weekend, the Oakland Strokes qualified more boats for next month’s Youth National Championships than any of the more than 25 clubs competing in the regatta.
Eight boats made the cut to participate in the nationals June 8-10 in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where some 1,500 oarsmen will compete.
Under hot, windy conditions at the two-day regional event the Strokes’ varsity women finished first in four key events: the lightweight eight, frosh eight, JV eight and 3V eight. The women’s varsity eight ceded first place to the Marin Rowing Club by just half a second.
Citing the women’s lightweight eight boat, coach Derek Byrnes said, “Last year they lost by just one second after expecting to win. This time they just blazed across the course—it was a thing of beauty. Nothing was subtle in their race strategy. Within 40 strokes of the start they had open water on all the other boats and won by 14 seconds.”
The boat is gunning for first place at the nationals after finishing fifth and second in the last two years respectively. Three of the eight girls in the boat, seniors Anna Wietelmann (Piedmont High), Katie Bird (Piedmont High) and Michelle Lee (Miramonte), have raced together since they were sophomores and will be vying for the national title for the third time.
“They’ve worked so darn hard,” Byrnes said. “The lightweight kids put it all on the line every day, and they want this so bad.”
The men also performed ably in Sacramento. “I was hoping to get top three in the varsity pairs, lightweight doubles, lightweight eights and lightweight fours,” varsity coach Dameon Engblom said, “and we managed all that except for the lightweight fours, who finished fourth by just .3 seconds.”
Like Byrnes, Engblom has high expectations for the nationals. “We’re in the hunt to win the lightweight eights, and if we fall short, we’ll medal. We’ll see how the pair develops in the next few weeks; they have a shot at a medal as well.”
Senior David Hosler (Piedmont High) will be returning to the nationals in the lightweight eight boat after bringing home gold as a sophomore and a junior.
In the novice events, the men’s and women’s fours both placed first in Sacramento. “It was an incredible race for the men,” men’s novice coach Jason Hilton said. “They won by 11 seconds. Nobody’s won the four by that much in years.”
Oakland Strokes, a 200-member junior rowing club for middle and high school students, represents 29 Bay Area high schools and has sent countless student-athletes to college rowing programs across the country. Each year the Strokes boats place strongly in local, regional and national championship regattas. Its boathouse is on the Oakland estuary near the High Street Bridge.
Photo caption: The Oakland Strokes varsity lightweight women's eight captured the gold at the California Southwest Junior Regional Championships. They will advance to the Youth National Championships next month in Oak Ridge, Tenn. From left to right, coaches Teresa Oja and Derek Byrnes, rowers Lizzy Pate, Sarah Runyon, Alia Shafi, Brittany Preston, Caroline Carper (cox) Anna Wietelmann, Zabby Elmgren, Michelle Lee, Katie Bird and coach Cass Cuningham. Photo: Lynn Owens