For the first time since 2006, Andover Boys Crew secured an invitation to the Henley Royal Regatta, the prestigious, internationally-recognized rowing event held annually on the River Thames in England during the first week of July. This year, Andover sent an eight-man boat to participate in the Princess Elizabeth Cup and a four-man boat to compete in the Prince Albert Cup.
The eight-man eventually fell to Westminster (U.K.) in the quarterfinals of the Princess Elizabeth Cup, a race comprised of eight-man boats. Andover’s four-man boat competed in the Prince Albert Cup, a race for just four-man boats, but Andover was not able to make it past the qualifying heats.
Since Andover races only eight-man boats in the spring season, its four-man boat, comprised of Andover’s top B2 rowers, did not have any prior record of success for which it could use to qualify. Andover’s eight-man boat was the same boat that placed second at the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association (NEIRAs), and thus used its performance there to qualify for the Princess Elizabeth.
“[The Regatta] is possibly one of the most unusual athletic competitions in any sport, anywhere, where both boys and girls at the secondary school level compete on the same site, within the same Regatta, as Collegiate, Club and Elite (National and Olympic) athletes,” wrote Assistant Coach Stewart MacDonald in an email to The Phillipian. “[It is] an aggressive athletic test and a psychologically demanding gauntlet for athletes of every age. With its dual boat structure and sudden death [format] reducing the field of every event by half every day, it is daunting.”
The Regatta required extensive amounts of brutal practice throughout the entire month of June. Forced to push themselves beyond their usual limits, the boys realized the importance of team camaraderie as they took part in grueling sessions on and off the river to train for the demanding event.
“We grew as a team through sheer pain,” said Dylan Norris ’16, one of Andover’s top eight rowers. “During the season, we row 1500-meter races that last about 4:30. Here, we rowed 2112-meter races with times getting close to seven minutes. That extra two and a half minutes of pain is brutal. We all were able to stick together and go through the pain as a unit.”
Jack Lane ’15, another member of the eight-man team, said, “We all had to grit our teeth and give it [our] all every time in order to succeed – a task easier said than done. Committing to a rowing race is like voluntarily throwing yourself into a torture chamber for six minutes and then getting a cold for the next three days. But it has to be done if you want to succeed.”
Andover was at a clear disadvantage against the other teams, as practice time is limited to after-school hours during the Spring Term. The other teams are able to meet daily all year long. Despite the circumstances, Andover proved itself as a top crew in the world when it faced several celebrated teams during the Regatta.
Drawing from its experiences in practice and at the New England Interscholastic Rowing Association Championships, the team got off to a fast start in the United Kingdom.
Although the four-man boat was not able to qualify against the likes of Yale University and the University of Washington for the Prince Albert Cup, it found immediate success in the Reading Town Race, an 800-meter sprint. Tyler Lian ’16, Tora Liu ’16, William Humphrey ’16, and Alex Cao ’16, along with coxswain Grace Hannam ’17, earned commemorative tankards in their bounceback victory. Despite struggling in the heats of the early morning, the group displayed great resilience on the river and returned home victorious.
“It all just came together,” said Cao.
The boat held an unusually high stroke rate to surprise their competition. They began the final race with a stroke rate of 46 and then held stroke rate of 39 the rest of the race. A typical eight-man boat will almost never reach a stroke rate higher than 40 and the rate normally sits at around 36.
Their fast start enabled them to build a lead over their opponent as, Andover held on for the win edging out Gonzaga College High School by a few seats.
Andover also beat the University of Warwick in the same race, a college rowing program.
“We came out with a length lead and just knew we had to hold it for 800 meters. So that’s what we did,” said Cao.
Much like the four, the eight-man boat delivered wins immediately. In its first two races, Andover captured two narrow victories over St. George’s College and the King’s School in the knockout format. The boys outpaced St. George’s by two-thirds of a length and the King’s School by three-fourths of a length.
MacDonald had high praise for the boys eight and commended them on their grit and determination.
“To be able to rise to that level of performance against students who learn rowing and sculling at a much earlier age, train for longer portions of the year and have conditioning and strength training programs as well as other resources that are not available to Andover, is a tribute to the determination and attitude of the nine extraordinary young men in the crew: Nick Faulkner ’16, Gabe Blanchard ’16, Norris, Lane, Ben Hawley ’15, Marc Sevastopoulo ’15, Nico Robertson ’15, Rob Irvin ’15 and Jacob Kozol ’15. They are not only one of the best crews Andover has ever had, but they are remarkable people as well,” said MacDonald.
Andover’s streak of success would come to a halt when pitted against Westminster, the eventual runner-up of the Regatta. Despite the best efforts of the oarsmen and coxswain Kozol, the boys fell to Westminster by three-fourths of a length. In the race, Andover jumped out to an early half-length lead and rowed neck-and-neck until the final 700 meters, when Westminster pulled ahead for good. Andover made a late run to try and close the gap but ran out of open water as Westminster crossed the finish.
MacDonald said, “I was fully aware that the quality of the British schools would be at an all-time high. We went over [to England] early, along with the Girls Crew that had won [NEIRAs], so we had the opportunity to race in three earlier regattas. As it turned out, the Andover Crew proved to be in the top tier, and the Henley racing showed us to be one of the four best crews in the event. Unfortunately, three of those four were on the same side of the Draw, so our run ended on Friday in an extraordinary race against the Westminster School crew that had won the British Schools Championship earlier in the season. They advanced again on Saturday to the Sunday Final, where in an all-English race they lost to a remarkable crew from St. Paul’s School (London), the runner-up at that earlier School Championship.”
Andover’s run at Henley concluded a nearly month-long trip, which was the first trip to Henley in which both Boys and Girls Crew raced. The girls bowed out of the Henley Women’s Regatta in the semifinals a week prior to the boys’ last race. Both performances marked the end of a strong year for Andover Crew.
Correction: July 13, 2015
A previous version of this article misstated the race in which Andover’s four-man boat initially raced in. It is the Prince Albert Cup, not the Reading Town Race.