Dominant! Dominant!! DOMINANT!!!
If I had to describe McCallie's performance in the JV 8+ event at SRAA's [Scholastic Nationals] on Saturday, I couldn't possibly describe it as anything other than DOMINANT. Winning by a margin of nearly 4 seconds in a 1500-meter race, the boys in blue firmly established that they are indeed the fastest high school boat in the country in their particular category. A fact that may or may not have shocked teams from across the country. [For reference, the JV 8+ is an event reserved for rowers who are Juniors or younger.]
During this past weekend alone, the boys in blue have accomplished several noticeable feats in the world of rowing. The list begins with them obtaining the fastest time out of all 4 heats by over 6 seconds, laying down a similar performance in the semis winning by 2 seconds, and then expanding on that lead in the grand finals winning by an assertive 4 seconds. This back-to-back-to-back one-sided performance in particular is a remarkable accomplishment, especially in a sport like rowing where it's difficult to defeat the same opponents over and over again.
If you think about it, it's easy to spot this phenomenon in other sports, too. For instance, in football, one team might win the first meeting, but in the championship game, they crumble. This same idea applies to rowing where a team might win heats and semis, but the pressure becomes too much in finals. As a rower, and as an athlete in general, it's far easier to be the underdog and aim for the team at the top than it is to be the king of the hill where you have to fight and claw to maintain your spot as everyone tries to drag you down.
Moving on, the next feat is that they became the first McCallie boat to win a gold medal at SRAA's— something that has been a long time coming for McCallie. The class of 2016 won a silver medal in the Varsity 4+ event, and the class of 2019 similarly had a few trips to the finals, but unfortunately came up short. Lastly, the most impressive of their feats is their margin of victory. As you may already know, rowing is a sport of seconds, meaning that every second counts. In a finals event at SRAA's, the margins can be as narrow as tenths or even hundredths of a second, which is considered a photo finish.
In a competitive field of 24 boats, McCallie put the nail in the coffin and won by an entire boat length [approximately 4 seconds], leaving no doubt that they were the fastest crew in the event. I'll admit that even I thought the margin would be within 2 seconds, but no! McCallie hungered for more, and they took the gold medal in dominant fashion shocking myself and many bystanders.
Watch the end of the race here.
As an alumnus, and as a former captain of the team, I've come to learn that there's no greater joy than seeing the boys following in your footsteps succeed and even exceed expectations. As of today, they too have embedded their footprints into the minds of current and future McCallie rowers, and as time continues flowing on, yet another generation of boys will step up to the plate and fill in those footprints that their predecessors left behind.
Some of this years rowers recreated this picture from my senior year (2019) after we won the Mid South Championship. [First picture is from 2022, second is from 2019]
Anyways, that's enough reflecting on my part, so let's get to the part that really matters— the boys in the boat!
Coxswain: Whit Lifsey - Freshman
Stroke: John Testerman - Sophomore
7: Bo Miltenberger- Junior
6: James Grauley- Junior
5: Greyson Richmond - Sophomore
4: Beck Honebein- Junior
3: August Michaels- Junior
2: Jack Moran - Junior
Bow: Walker McLelland - Sophomore
Steering The Way To Success
Perhaps the most instrumental person in the entire boat is the coxswain— the person who is in charge of steering and instructing the rowers.
As any rower will tell you, a half-decent coxswain must be able to at least do two things: steer and communicate. According to the rowers in his boat, Whit Lifsey did a great job of doing exactly that. After strong winds caused some steering hiccups in the semifinals, Whit recovered by steering a stellar course to the finish line in the finals. You might expect steering to be an easy task, but it's far from it. As a college rower myself, I've witnessed college coxswains from universities across the country who still struggle heavily with steering in similar conditions.
Here's what Whit had to say about his race:
Q: Going into this race what was your plan? Did you execute? I know it can be hard to actually stick to the plan when it comes to a high-stakes race like this.
Whit: We learned through the heats and semis we weren’t going to be stopped if we executed our race plan.
Initially, our game plan was to get out to a good start and leave the field behind in the middle 750 of the race. However, our plan went a little bit off course when we caught a crab around the middle of the race and we knew that the team right behind us [Gonzaga] had a really strong sprint. That ended up helping us because we saw them gaining ground and that resulted in the guys rowing even harder and using everything in the final 100-meters to hold them off.
Q: Being a freshman and competing at Nationals for the first time can be difficult. I still remember SRAA's my freshman and even my sophomore year being nerve-wracking. How did you and the guys in your boat overcome any nerves you might've had?
Whit: As a freshman, I was very nervous beforehand because I didn’t want to mess it up for the eight guys in my boat. I knew all the hard work they put in throughout the year and didn’t want to mess that up.
"I think that we wanted to be the first boat to bring it home for McCallie and we wanted to win for each other. . . .When it came down to nerves, we brushed them aside and decided we were going to win this race for ourselves, our school, and show all that we were capable of. We were tired of being the underdog and wanted to earn our recognition."
The Engine Room
If you're new to rowing you might not know that the people in the middle of the boat [5-seat and 6-seat] are affectionately known as the engine room since they are largely what propels a boat forward. Most rowers will tell you that generally speaking, some of the biggest and most powerful guys on any given team are placed in this position as they are crucial when it comes to creating a fast boat.
Here's what 6-seat James Grauley had to share:
Q: Did you expect to walk away from this race with a gold medal? Do you think the other teams expected McCallie to be this competitive? You guys are a southern team that practically came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of these northern boats who've been racing each other all year.
James: Our team knew that we were pretty good going into SRAA's after coming out of the state championship race with a victory. . . . Looking at results from other JV 8+'s at previous regattas we knew we'd have to be around the 4:30 mark if we really wanted a chance to win a gold medal [at SRAA's]. In practice, we weren't quite getting to that point so we knew we had our work cut out for us.
Being from the south, no other teams took us very seriously until we came out and won heats with the fastest time by over 6 seconds which certainly made us the team to beat. . . . After heats and semis, we knew that teams like New Trier and Gonzaga were going to come out swinging and I think that if we went into the finals race without the underdog mentality we most likely wouldn't have done as well.
Stroking To Victory
The most important thing in rowing is probably rhythm. Without rhythm, you can't possibly row well since the members of the boat do not have a cadence to follow or match up with. With that said, having a good stroke seat (the person who everyone in the boat syncs up with) is essential because it's a factor that can really make or break a boat. . . . Based on the results of this weekend, it appears that McCallie has found themselves a good one in John Testerman!
Stroke seat John Testerman offers his thoughts here:
Q: How was the race from up in stroke seat?
John: At the start of the race I was nervous knowing what the other teams had in stock for us, but at the same time I was ready for it. My main objectives as stroke seat were to keep a firm and steady pace at around 37-38 spm [strokes per minute] and to maintain focus on accelerating into the back end so the boat could sync together.
[During finals] we had the best start out of all our previous races. . . . We had an almost perfect row aside from an “incident” (me crabbing) in the final 650 meters of the race and even though that set us back a few seats we still picked up the rate and pushed even harder past the other boats.
Q: What was going through your mind at the 500-meter mark? Was there any point where you guys felt the pressure at all?
John: The first 500 meters were nerve-racking. We saw New Trier make a move around the 400 meters into the race which got them 2 seats closer to being even with us. That was a scary moment for the whole boat, but it ended up giving us the motivation we needed to push past both Gonzaga and New Trier [placing 2nd and 3rd respectively].
"We had seen film from both Gonzaga and New Trier and we saw how Gonzaga had a monstrous sprint while New Trier had an amazing start. The whole boat was nervous about those two boats in particular, but we pulled ourselves together and went out to beat both teams."
I just shared my thoughts on McCallie's stellar performance this past weekend. Are you a McCallie alumnus? Did you row? Tell us in the comments below! Feel free to share our article by hitting the share button and leaving a like!
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