WWP Rowers

The Mercer Rowing Club on the water on Lake Mercer in Mercer County Park. RJ Regan is at far left (bow) and Aditya Chowdary is at fifth seat.

The Mercer Rowing Club, based out of West Windsor, was a huge presence at this year’s Youth National Championships in Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Fla. And several high school students from the WW-P School District were part of the fun in the U17 events.

WW-P South rising juniors RJ Regan, Zurab Sagirashvili, Vansh Lorish and Aditya Chowdary, and WW-P North rising junior Sophia Djeng were members among the six boats that qualified for the nationals.

That is not a number to be taken lightly.

“The significant thing about this team is it’s the most boats we’ve sent down to nationals,” Regan said. “We had the most boats qualify from our club... We sent six boats down, which is a lot for a crew like us. Most boats around the United States are lucky to have one boat qualify. We were lucky to have two boats last year and we tripled that amount this year.”

Sagirashvilli was a member of the U-17 4-person boat, which finished 17th overall. Lorish and Djeng, who served as coxswain, were in the second Varsity 8 boat that finished 11th out of over 60 competitors, which was fairly impressive.

The biggest success came from the U-17 8 boat, which won its semifinal heat and finished fourth in the nation. Regan and Chowdary were on the boat, with RJ in the first seat and Aditya in the fifth. Despite their impressive finish, Regan felt it could have been even better save for an unfortunate incident in the finals.

The boat finished in 6:01, the field’s best time in the 1900 meter time trial, despite having to race in an afternoon crosswind while many boats in its group raced during the calmness of the morning.

“It made us go slower but we ended up getting through it and pushing it,” Regan said.

Mercer then had the best time of 6:23 in its 2000 meter semifinal race. It was the second best time overall, as a California boat went 6:21 in the other semi.

“That was probably our most successful race,” Regan said. “Our plan was to try and get in front of all the other boats early. We did that well and didn’t have to go all out. Because we were in front of them, all the other boats were trying to race for second and third instead of going for first because we pushed ahead so early.”

Then came the finals, in which Mercer got caught in a “crab trap.”

The MRC boat sprinted to the lead after 200 meters when a rower caught a crab, which meant his oar got stuck in the water. He could not control it and had to withdraw it.

“Imagine in a biking race, it’s like falling off your bike in a sort of way, because you have to get back on,” Regan said. “We were actually battling for first place in the final and because we caught that crab we got put in fifth place. From there we sort of sprinted as hard as we could, but we basically used all our energy trying to catch up. We passed the fourth-place boat, which I’m pretty proud of after coming back from that struggle and being able to place ahead of them.”

But the grand prize eluded them as the California boat edged a crew from Philadelphia in a photo finish. Mercer actually finished in 6:14, which was even better than its semifinal clocking thanks to a tailwind it benefitted from.

“We tried as hard as we could to push ahead,” Regan said. “I’m pretty proud of the way we faced varsity. Going into the race we were all expecting gold or silver. We weren’t prepared for catching a crab. So when it happens we were like ‘Oh no, this can’t be good.’

“Because of our placement prior, we thought we were gonna be so good. It was sort of sad. I know some of our rowers were tearing up.”

But, as Regan pointed out, “the big thing is all the boats we qualified showed that they are of the highest caliber in the nation.”

Interestingly, Regan and Chowdary never knew each other until Aditya was brought up to the U-17 this year. Regan went to Grover Middle School and Chowdary, who started rowing a year after RJ, attended Community. The two never crossed paths in the vastness of WW-PS.

“Aditya is great,” Regan said. “He’s a nice guy. I was surprised when I talked to him when he said he went to South. I actually didn’t believe it at first because I’d never seen him.

“I’m really proud of the progress he made, I think he’s a really good rower and has a lot of potential in the future. I can’t wait to train with him these next couple of seasons.”

Their roles on the boat are different. Sitting in the bow and facing the coxswain (who steers), Regan and the No. 2 seat rower work to keep balance in the boat, while the No. 7 and 8 seats in the back work on the timing. The middle four rowers, which is where Chowdary sits, provide the strength and the speed, or as Regan put it “those are the people who try to pull really hard.”

Mercer’s boats qualified for nationals at the May 14 Mid-Atlantic Regional held during a regatta on Mercer County Lake. The top four in each class advanced, and the U-17 8 boat took second place going against talented teams from Connecticut, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Despite the tough finish at nationals, Regan is unfazed and has faith in Mercer, which is coached by former Princeton University standout Jamie Hamp.

“I’m proud of my program, I’m proud of how much we were able to accomplish,” Regan said. “We were disappointed with our loss, but we’ll take that loss and implement it and go to the next race. We have the Canadian Henley in August in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. So we’ll take this loss and go there on a revenge tour, as some of our teammates are calling it.

“A lot of people in my boat are doing vigorous training during the summer. Me, Aditya and some other kids are going to Olympic Development Camp over the summer to try and be able to help our team even more.”

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