Much of the work was done two years ago, away from the water and well beyond any spotlight. There was an active group chat and even the routine Zoom meetings, which served as virtual hangouts.
It was imperative then, coach Matt Stufano said,[thathisWappingerscrewteamatleastkeepintouchandremainengagedThehopeofcoursewasthatnoneofthemwouldloseinterestinthesportduringthehiatus
As it became clear in spring 2020 how far from normalcy the pandemic would force us to drift, there was the realization that a canceled scholastic sports season would be among the unpleasant changes.
“It was devastating, especially for the upperclassmen,” Stufano said. “And the younger kids were nervous, not knowing if their remaining high school seasons would be taken away, too.”
It was especially frustrating because of the potential of the Wappingers youngsters had shown the previous two years. That core first stood out as novices and later excelled in the freshman races in 2019, those glimpses generated excitement and lofty expectations for the upcoming seasons.
Nature then robbed them of two.
That’s why last Saturday, the scene at the Hudson River Rowing Association boathouse was frenzied as the athletes ran, jumped and shouted giddyly, allowing themselves an outpouring of about three years’ worth of emotion.
That, Stufano said, “was so cool to see.”
Past success: Wappingers boys crew wins team title at HRRL championships
2019 season: Poughkeepsie girls crew wins state title, places at nationals
Spackenkill Soaring: The Spartans represent Dutchess County in baseball state final four
The Wappingers boys won the Hudson Valley Rowing League championship, with three boats taking first place, to cap a sterling season in which that potential finally had a chance to be fulfilled.
The girls team, coached by Elizabeth Schlusser, placed second overall, behind Suffern. Its varsity eight was a winner, though.
“Crossing that finish line for their last race, there was that somber feeling like, ‘This is it,'” Stufano said of his senior-laden team, whose high school careers were essentially halved. “But there was a lot of excitement. The joy of accomplishing what they did overwhelmed that feeling of finality.”
The Wappingers boys crew totaled 100 points to finish ahead of second-place Suffern in a 12-team competition.
Their varsity four boat — anchored by Bobby Gee, Mark Stafford, Matt Kraus, Sam Crane, and coxswain Sean Cadden — won its race in 4 minutes, 56 seconds.
Coxswain Alejandro Castillo, Peter Newhard, Ryan Camacho, Miles Clyde, Ryan Campbell, Brenden Harris, Nathan Nguyen, James Considine and Jack McCarthy were the crew of the varsity eight, which won in 4:44.5.
The lightweight four, rowed by Parker Schmidt, Jack Harkins, Ian Muller, Orestes Mihaly and coxswain Kaitlyn Gilmore, won its race in 5:13.8.
Olivia Nguyen, Madison Bennett, Madelyn Sweeney, Ava Brethauer, Emma Polonski, Abigail Matthews, Julia Campbell, Christina Kilduff and coxswain Brooke Dini led Wappingers girls varsity boat to victory in 5:00.38.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Stufano, whose team includes rowers from Roy C. Ketcham and John Jay high schools. “I had them as novice boats in 2018, and to see their progress and growth over the years, despite all the challenges, is amazing.”
Once the 2020 season was nixed, Stufano and assistant coach Jason Miller made it a priority to keep the team together, if even remotely. There were instructional training videos, clips to study of Olympic rowers, and regular conversations about anything of interest.
“The kids did a great job through the pandemic of staying in shape and maintaining their speed,” Stufano said.
The sport, locally, dipped its toe in the water in spring 2021 for what the coach described as a “halfway season.” Teams were allowed to practice in 10-person cohorts and Wappingers held scrimmages against a handful of local teams, including Spackenkill and Arlington, in lieu of competition.
They participated in only one tournament, the New York State Invitational Regatta in Saratoga Springs, which was the final event of that season.
That, in a serendipitous way, might have benefit the group.
“I think the experience brought us closer together,” Stufano said. “They got to row without the pressure of competing and it gave everyone an opportunity to relax a little and bond.”
Their performance this season, last weekend in particular, was a culmination of all those experiences. All that talent, too.
“I had told them going into 2020 that we could be faster and great in the coming years,” Stufano said. “I’d said that this group could accomplish something special.”
Well, a little later than initially expected, but right on time.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @StephenHaynes4