Warriors pulling together

Boosted by strong showings in the state meet, Niskayuna is fine-tuning its technique in preparation
From left, Colin Sweeney (coxswain), Andy Patt, Chris Grygiel, Andrew Fiumano, John Shakeshaft, Jacob Reich, Will Koch, Alex Gagnon and Kyle Matuszyk of the Niskayuna boys’ second 8 boat, practice on the Mohawk in Niskayuna Friday.
From left, Colin Sweeney (coxswain), Andy Patt, Chris Grygiel, Andrew Fiumano, John Shakeshaft, Jacob Reich, Will Koch, Alex Gagnon and Kyle Matuszyk of the Niskayuna boys’ second 8 boat, practice on the Mohawk in Niskayuna Friday.

As the Niskayuna boys’ second 8 boat docked next to perennial power Chaminade on May 9 at the New York State Scholastic Championships, one difference between the two crews was apparent.

The Chaminade rowers towered above the Silver Warriors.

Niskayuna’s rowers, as a group, don’t boast much size. Still, they’re sending five boats to the Scholastic National Championships Friday and Saturday in Saratoga Springs.

“We’ve figured out, over the past four seasons, that size is nothing,” said Emil Abraham, coxswain for the Niskayuna boys’ senior 8. “It’s all in the technique and how we work together, how we focus as a team to push ourselves forward.”

At the states, the first Niskayuna senior 8 (eight rowers, plus coxswain) traversed the 1,500-meter course 2.58 seconds behind Chaminade. The Silver Warriors’ entry in the second 8 race outpaced a boat from Chaminade by a stunning 6.96 seconds to win the state championship for the second 8 classification.

The program also saw senior Barbara Prescott finish second among girls’ scholastic one-seat entries.

The Niskayuna girls’ senior 8 crew and a girls’ 4x crew also qualified for Nationals, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, among scholastic entries.

Saratoga Springs will send 13 racing shells to Nationals, Shenendehowa will send six, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake five, Shaker three, Ballston Spa two and Emma Willard two.

Many of the boats petitioned into the event. Only Shenendehowa matched Niskayuna’s four automatic berths.

Five boats is the most Niskayuna boys’ coach Jonathan Markowicz said he can remember the club sending to Nationals.

Late season start

Niskayuna’s preparation for Nationals might be different than that of some of its competitors. The Silver Warriors have been focusing on final fine-tuning of their technique, something they couldn’t do in the opening weeks of the spring season.

Ice on the Mohawk River near the Rexford Bridge, where the boats practice, kept them landlocked until after Easter, just two weeks before the first race.

“On the boys’ side, we focused a lot on power and endurance and just getting our physical stamina up,” Markowicz said. “Now, we’re actually taking this time after states to fine-tune all the technique. Who knows? Hopefully, it could make the difference.”

Becky Fogarty took over as girls’ coach this season, and the transition has been made easier by the girls’ willingness to take instruction from a new coach.

“They’re responsive to my criticism,” Fogarty said. “They’re able to make the changes, adjust and work well together.”

She said the girls have worked hard to get where they are, despite the challenges, such as a late start on the water.

Having earned spots at Nationals, she said she just wants to see her girls row a race they can be proud of, regardless of finish.

“A lot of schools from Pennsylvania and Florida are going to be very fast, and it’s going to be tough competition,” Fogarty said. “I just want them to have a good race with no regrets and do the best they can.”

Although she came into the season not knowing exactly what to expect from the girls, Markowicz said he knew the boys were going to be good, but they still had a lot of work to do.

“We really didn’t get our hopes too high,” he said. “We wanted really steady goals.”

First among them was prepare for the Sar­atoga Invitational on April 24-25. That was to be the gauge, to see where they stood against quality competition.

The boys’ senior 8 finished fifth, the second 8 was third in their race and a third 8 won the junior 8 classification.

It was then that Markowicz said he thought with a little more work, they could finish well at states.

As Markowicz described the Chaminade second 8 climbing from their boats and stretching to heights of 6-foot-4 and 6-5, he said, “They’re huge,” before Prescott chimed in.

“Like Nordic gods,” she said. To hold their own against an intimidating opponent, the Niskayuna rowers needed to forget about size and work on the things they can control.

“We need to really perfect all the small stuff,” Markowicz said. “In rowing, if you don’t have that size, that reach, that length . . . the oar is a giant lever, pulling in the water . . . we’ve got to make sure every bit of what we do have is perfect.”

From the stroke seat, the spot just in front of the coxswain at the back of the boat and the first seat turned toward the stern, Andy Patt had a perfect view of the Chaminade boat from start to finish.

“When we came into the finals, I, personally, was thinking we had to give it everything we had just to come in second,” Patt said. “Not in my wildest dreams did I think we could beat Chaminade.

“Then after the start, we were a little bit ahead of them, and we got excited. We kept holding and kept holding. Then right before the sprint, we saw they were still a little bit behind us and we realized, ‘If we just pour everything we have into this final sprint, we have the state title.’ It was one of my favorite races I’ve ever rowed.”

All by herself

Prescott will climb into her boat alone. Instead of using one oar, as rowers in the larger boats do, she has two and uses a technique called “sculling” instead of the “sweeping” done with a single oar.

She has rowed in eight- and four-seat boats, but said she enjoys the solo row.

“It’s really different because you can’t depend on anyone else.” Prescott said. “Anything you do is your own fault or your own success. I really like it, though. I like being held accountable for all my actions and, if you do well in a race, it’s completely thanks to you. It’s a lot more individualized, but I like it.”

She said she has to shift gears to prepare for Nationals. It requires a different mind-set than previous races. It’s a step up.

“You’re going against some of the best crews in the country,” Prescott said. “Not only are you keeping the same practice regimen and coming to practice every day after school, but I’ve been watching what I eat and trying to get enough sleep. If you have a big race, people are preparing for weeks ahead of time and hydrating. It’s mental and physical, and it’s all about your health and preparing as much as you can.”

Each Niskayuna boat seems to be looking for the right mind-set for this penultimate race.

As he barks at the rowers in the senior 8 boat, Abraham’s mantra is “no regrets.”

“Our mind-set is kind of that we’re going into the unknown,” Abraham said. “We don’t know how fast these guys are going to pull. They might pull slower than us, they might pull faster than us. We’re just going to go in with the mind-set that we’re going to push as hard as we can. We’re going to have no regrets. That was our attitude for the previous race. We’re just going to go through as fast as we can, put every bit of energy that we have right into this piece and finish it off.”

In the second 8, the Niskayuna rowers expect nothing from the race, but everything from themselves.

“We’re trying to maintain the type of mind-set we’ve had all season,” Patt said. “We’re coming in as the underdogs, and we need to prove ourselves in every regatta. That’s what we’ve been thinking at states, the invite, sectionals. We’re hopeful, we want to do well, to represent well, but we’re coming in with the attitude that everybody is going to be faster than us and the dedication we put in is the only thing that will make us beat them.”

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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