In the spring of 2018, the boys’ and girls’ rowing squads at Brookline High failed to earn a trip to the nationals because they didn’t finish in the top three at the Northeast Regionals.
While the experience was “disheartening,” according to senior boys’ rowing captain Cooper Grace, it was also “motivational.”
“It felt like we needed to wake up and get back on our feet [and] bring back our energy that we have,” said junior Arik Stolyarov, who also is on the boys’ team.
This spring, the Warriors not only made their goal a reality, but they achieved it in overwhelming fashion. Twenty-five athletes qualified for the US Youth Rowing National Championships in Sarasota, Fla., the most in the history of the program.
Four boats competed June 6 to 9, and all placed in the top 20 in the country.
The boys’ lightweight eight — Stolyarov, senior Patrick Vespa, sophomore Hugo Harington, senior Conor Ross, sophomore Justin Grossman, senior Arman Marchiel, senior IK Agba, senior Eric Jamous, and junior Ben Noe — advanced to the A final and finished sixth.
The girls’ lightweight eight of senior Leila Mamedova, junior Maiya Whalen, senior Liz Whitehead, senior Avery Kelly, junior Claire Guillemin, junior Cassie Terranova, senior Juliette Chandler, junior Josie Luby, and junior Claire Guzman finished 20th.
The boys’ pair featuring sophomore Solomon Sakakeeny-Smith and senior captain Luc Jamous finished 12th, and the boys’ lightweight four of Grace, sophomore Andrew Yang, senior Tomer Kushner, junior Kyle Makalusky, and senior Josh Gladstone placed 15th.
The boys’ team won the state championship and the girls’ team finished in third place.
“They set these goals last year when we didn’t qualify anyone for nationals,” said Katy Ruderman, a 2008 Brookline High graduate and former rower who is program director and boys’ head coach. “They worked really hard all summer, fall, winter, and spring to make it a reality.”
The hours on the water and in the gym paid off. Athletes practiced largely on their own during the summer, but when fall and winter rolled around, they rowed for their school’s club team.
“Even in the cold winter months, we work out six days a week, 2½ hours a day. There’s eyes on the prize,” Kelly said. Making the nationals “was an intangible goal that all of a sudden became tangible.”
During the season, the team holds two types of practices. On one day, the team will have a “steady state practice,” designed to hone technique and strokes. The next day, the team has a “piece practice,” consisting of sprints done at race pace.
“Piece days are when we train our bodies and minds to fight the pain and keep on rowing our hardest,” said Stolyarov, who will be a captain of the boys’ team next year.
In rowing, athletes achieve peak fitness and experience improvement when pushing themselves beyond the aerobic threshold, or when the body reaches its maximum effort. The Warriors practiced this often, and the results spoke for themselves.
“It’s about being able to reach aerobic threshold,” Stolyarov said. “When you’re tired it’s very different. You always have to dig deep. That is where we make gains in mental fitness.”
Brookline also mixed up its crews during practice, pairing athletes of different abilities.
“We practice together, and we think it makes the team a lot stronger,” Ruderman said. “They’ll be in mixed where some of the guys who were sixth in the nation [are] also with some of the guys in the bottom boat of the program, because it makes everyone better.”
The boys’ and girls’ teams do not share boats, but they do share the water and a common bond.
The 13 seniors missed their high school graduation in Brookline, so they had a ceremony of their own on the beach in Florida.
“It was actually really cool,” Kelly said. “We had it on the beach and it was really sweet and I thought it was more fun.”
The graduation epitomized the community of the Brookline rowing program.
“Collectively, we’re a scholastic team, so everything we do happens all together. You hear the kids call each other family and brothers and sisters quite a lot because they just spend so much time together,” Ruderman said. “And there’s also such a huge level of commitment and respect and trust.”