By Jennifer A. Sheffield
Beaver Creek sculling program sends Western Albemarle rowers to country’s top races
Inside the boathouse at Beaver Creek Reservoir, a banner hangs on the wall that reads, “This is where you get better.” The tucked-away lake is where, on unfrozen mornings at six-o’clock, sleepy high school students pull a fleet of Fluidesign sculling boats from the ceiling, choose sets of oars and once on the water, work on technique and toughness.
Beaver Creek Sculling (BCS) is the umbrella non-profit for Western Albemarle High School (WAHS) varsity crew that trains and competes as a club sport in the spring. Based on the team’s state and national results last fall, in races ranging from the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia to the internationally attended Head of the Charles in Boston, it was clear that dedication to sunrise sessions paid off.
Ahead of tryouts scheduled for February 21, for which an athlete completes a brutal 2K (2,000 meters) test of endurance and sprinting on a Concept II ergometer, head coach Craig Redinger said, “I had kids that rowed in boats that were eighth and ninth at Junior Nationals [in Sarasota, Fla.] this summer and could win medals against the best in the country. On the other hand, I want this sport to be a community one, and it doesn’t take long to progress, so I have never taken a kid off the team based on initial performance.”
Redinger took over five years ago from the late Myriam Pitts, the team founder, who brought a team of just 20 rowers into the rankings back in 2015, when Western dominated at the Virginia State Rowing Association (VASRA) Championships, bringing home three champions in singles and quad racing and a doubles third place finish in the 1,500 meter sprints. All four boats moved onto the National Scholastic Rowing Association championship that year, where Western earned four medals.
In 2021, the Women’s Junior quad (4x) won the VASRA championship, and a team of now 54 began its fall racing season with top performances at the High Point Autumn Festival Regatta in North Carolina. Among the school’s 13 entries were gold medals for the women’s under-17 4x, men’s 4x, men’s singles (1x) and doubles (2x), the men’s under-17 4x, and one silver medal in the women’s 2x.
The Schuylkill was held in late October, and with 260 clubs entered, BCS took a silver in the men’s 2x and bronze in the women’s novice 4x. For the first time in its history, BCS also had one women’s youth double, two men’s youth doubles, and two women’s singles selected by lottery into the Charles’ regatta, where 11,000 athletes compete.
Western volunteer assistant coach and former collegiate rower Nadia Anderson said the Charles can be tricky for rowers, who by the luck of the draw will start behind the pack.
Despite their bow numbers, seniors Lucas Farmer and Will Donovan came in eleventh and Jack Mehnert and Ryan Kennedy came in thirty-first in the men’s youth double event, finishing 2:57 and 3:04 off the lead boat. Junior Cal Dagner came in twenty-first (U17 entry) and Greta Slaats came in thirty-ninth in the women’s youth single event, finishing 3:45 and 4:00 off the lead boat.
Youth double rowers Lydia Pelton and Delaney Young, whose time trial 2K at Youth Nationals was 7:45, finished Boston in twenty-eighth place.
Dagner credits a full, three-season course of rigorous training for her success. “The more time we spend at race pace, the quicker our race pace gets and the longer we can hold it. There is also the mental training of every stoke, which helps us prepare for points in a race where we want to stop.”
Slaats said, “I had support from my teammates, and there was a spirit to keep me going through the rest of the fall season.” Slaat’s sister Colette also rows with the team from Henley Middle School.
Since Western competes only in sculls (small boats, rather than sweep boats where each rower uses a single oar), senior Rivenna Barber described the teamwork required to balance a lighter craft. “The synchronicity is very precise, so we teach the younger kids to work as a whole team.”
Redinger makes everybody row in competition as soon as they are able to. In addition, rowers attend camps, including one with University of Virginia coach Frank Biller, who consulted with the team during Covid.
“Their success is a natural consequence of hard work,” he said. The men’s captain, Farmer, is committed to Wisconsin and Donavan is headed to Northeastern.
“If they are competitive, Craig will keep pushing,” said Biller. “To watch them pursue something they didn’t know existed is the rewarding thing, and rowing sets kids up for success on whatever path they choose in life.”
Junior Quentin Bragaw summed up the entire experience: “It’s nice to have it as an anchor. It’s something I can focus on, and improve on.”
BCS charges dues and raises money for boats, costing up to $25,000 each. But, “It doesn’t make any darn difference what boat you’re rowing, it’s how much guts you’ve got,” Redinger said.
WAHS coaches offer community summer rowing programs at Beaver Creek for adults and teens. For information, visit www.beavercreeksculling.org