Dublin high school club rowing coach Chris Swartz was optimistic about how his boys varsity 2 boat would fare in the USRowing Youth Nationals held June 6-9 at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida.

His hopes were validated when 2019 Columbus Metro graduate Rain Juhl and 2019 St. Charles graduate Craig Hammon reached the grand final June 9.

The duo placed fourth in the championship race in 7 minutes, 5.295 seconds after finishing third (7:04.759) in a semifinal June 8.

“They’re my two strongest seniors and probably my two fittest seniors, for sure,” Swartz said. “These guys had the opportunity to make a difference in a pair, so that became one of the focus boats. This is one of the better pairs I’ve coached speed-wise.”

Hammon sits in the stroke seat and Juhl in the bow seat.

“(The season has) been good,” said Hammon, who plans to row for Drexel University. “I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than in past years. We work fairly well together. We’re almost the same height and size.”

Juhl and Hammon competed in the varsity 2 for the first time in the Midwest Junior Championships held May 18 and 19 on Harsha Lake in Bethel and finished first in 7:13.493.

“It’s exciting,” said Juhl, who has committed to row for Stanford. “I didn’t know we were going to (advance to nationals), so it was a fun little surprise. (The Midwest regatta) was our first official race of the season, so we didn’t know how fast we were going to go.”

The national regatta completed the club’s first season under Swartz, who is renaming the program “Central Ohio Rowing” to attract more interest from athletes throughout the area.

Last fall, one of the program’s rowers traveled more than an hour away from Jackson to compete.

“With central Ohio rowing, we’re pushing real hard to get rowers from Worthington and Hilliard and get some Columbus City (Schools) kids rowing all under one umbrella to give us more opportunities and more bodies.”

Westerville also ends season at nationals

Aenea Keren and Maddie Kirwin entered the USRowing Youth Nationals looking to reach the grand final or at least the B final in the girls varsity 2 competition.

Just getting to nationals, though, didn’t seem like a sure thing for the Westerville club rowers while competing in the Midwest regatta.

After the preliminary races, Keren, a rising senior at New Albany, and Kirwin, a 2019 graduate of Genoa Christian, had only the sixth-best time.

“We had been seeded sixth in the grand final and the wind and water conditions were brutal,” Keren said. “We had expected them to cancel the final because of the wind, and our time trial result wasn’t fast enough to qualify, so getting to the final and winning wasn’t quite the expectation.”

That’s exactly what happened, though, as Keren, who sits in the bow seat, and Kirwin, who sits in the stroke seat, finished first in the grand final in the Midwest regatta in 8:07.733.

Then at nationals, they placed second (7:59.651) in the C final to finish 14th overall.

Westerville also was represented at nationals by its boys lightweight 4, which placed fourth (6:53.965) in the C final to finish 16th overall.

“We only started practicing (as a) pair two weeks before regionals,” Keren said. “We practiced (as a) pair in the morning before school and would practice again in the afternoon in the (varsity) 8. It wasn’t really surprising that we qualified, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to win our event at regionals.”

It was the third appearance at nationals for Kirwin. A year ago, she competed on the girls varsity 8 that included Keren and finished 22nd and teamed with 2018 New Albany graduate Tori Cooke on the girls varsity 2 that placed ninth (8:18.426). In 2017, Kirwin competed in the girls varsity 2.

“Qualifying for nationals is a great chance to see how your team compares to others across the nation and to catch up with friends on other teams you don’t usually race against in your region,” Kirwin said. “It means you get to race against people who you know have worked just as hard as you have to get there, which makes it more competitive but also more fun.”

The boys lightweight 4 consisted of New Albany rising senior Noah Tobin in the stroke seat, 2019 Dublin Jerome graduate Kethan Manakkal in the No. 2 seat, 2019 St. Charles graduate Victor Shilling in the No. 3 seat, New Albany rising junior John McDonald in the bow seat and New Albany rising sophomore Natalie Larivey as coxswain.

Manakkal has committed to row for Tulane and Shilling has committed to Miami University.

The boys lightweight 4 advanced to nationals by earning a runner-up finish (6:46.739) in the Midwest regatta.

The Midwest regatta opened on the same day as Jerome’s graduation, but Manakkal chose to compete instead taking part in the ceremony.

“I decided to skip my graduation and by doing so qualified for nationals, which meant in my eyes that the sacrifices I made were worth it in the end,” Manakkal said. “A boat qualifying for nationals means that the countless sacrifices we made, such as having to miss school events or friend outings for practice and/or regattas, the long hours we put in six days a week and the 5:30 a.m. practices have all paid off.

“Additionally, qualifying for nationals means that we have refined our skills and improved our strength to a high enough caliber in order to be one of the best boats in the entire country.”