Islanders fuel Mount Baker crew team

By Matt Phelps

The Mount Baker crew team had 32 kids from Mercer Island this year -- an estimated one-third of the entire team. Although Islanders usually make up one-half of the team, this year it was more quality than quantity from Mercer Island.

Seven Islander boys finished the season by helping to push two boats to the 11th annual U.S. Rowing National Youth Invitational in Cincinatti, Ohio, on Saturday and Sunday.

``I think we had more guys that were committed to doing what it takes, and with more guys like that, it pushed us to a higher level,'' said Mount Baker crew coach Dan Shapiro. ``We had a lot of top-level guys on our team this year.''

The program's open-weight eight boat qualified for nationals, a feat not achieved for the boat since 1993.

``We had a little bit less from the Island than usual,'' said Mercer Island High School senior Jesse Johnson. ``But this year we had more depth and good competition in the program. We were committed to work hard and we had no weak links.''

The open-weight eight boat was favored to place in the top three at nationals but had a tough run during the final race and had to settle for fourth place overall. The shell began the regatta strong on Saturday morning, rowing the second fastest heat time of the morning, despite easing up near the end of the race. As a result, the boat qualified for one of the two semifinal races on Sunday morning.

``This is just a really prestigious race and there are faster times,'' said Islander James Olson. ``There was a little more pressure, but we were just excited to race.''

The open-weight boat won handily during the Sunday morning semifinal, posting the second fastest time. The boat was now qualified for the six-boat final race. Mount Baker was given the No. 2 seed position in the center of the race course for the grand final.

A 10 mile an hour headwind came up on Sunday afternoon, slowing times some 20 or more seconds from the morning races. Mount Baker suffered from the winds, finishing behind St. Ignatius College Prep, San Francisco; Cincinnati Junior Rowing Club and Marin Rowing Association (California.)

The Mount Baker open-weight eight was stroked by Johnson. Other Mercer Island rowers were Dane Robbins, six seat; Amit Levy, five seat; and Olson, three seat.

Johnson and Levy, both seniors at Mercer Island High School, will attend the University of Washington in the fall. Robbins and Olson will compete for Mount Baker next year during their senior years at Mercer Island High School. Olson has been elected captain of the Mount Baker Junior Men's Varsity for the 2005-2006 season.

Mount Baker's light-weight eight shell made it to the finals at nationals, as well. The boat had to fight to make the finals and finished sixth overall with a time of 6:39.36.

``It is a cool race because you get to race against people you have never raced against,'' said Levin.

The light-weight eight was coached by the team's assistant coach Chris O'Brien.

``He has done an excellent job with just three (returnees),'' said Shapiro.

The light-weight eight shell finished third in its first race on Saturday morning behind the eventual gold and silver medal crews and had to row in a repecharge, or second chance, race in the afternoon. The crew was successful in its repecharge, finishing second. The boat qualified for the finals during the National Championship on Sunday.

The light-weight eight finished sixth in the final six-boat field, a great result for a boat rowed by a freshman, four sophomores, a junior and only two seniors.

Mercer Island's Jonathan Kissler rowed in the six seat, David Boman in the four seat and Levin in the bow or number one seat. Kissler and Levin are seniors at Mercer Island High School, and Boman is a sophomore.

``The season really went well for us,'' said Levin. ``I was upset that we couldn't take the four boat. But this is a great way to end my senior year of high school.''

The four boat was a favorite during regionals but the qualifying race could not be run thanks to bad weather.

The Mount Baker boys varsity included 14 boys from Mercer Island: Garret Bernal, Boman, Johnson, Patrick Kilgallon, Kissler, Levin, Levy, Olson, Robbins, Sarah Spranger, A.J. Temple, Benjamin Urman, Matt Wald and Derrick Wang.

Novice boys from Mercer Island included: Erik Buckmiller, Eugene Kwon, Alex Myerson and David Schneider.

The Mount Baker girls team went through a rebuilding year under team captain and Mercer Island High School senior Dana Brandt.

``I think that they had some unfinished business but they also have a strong base from Mercer Island,'' said Shapiro.

Mount Baker girls varsity rowers from the Island include: Brandt, Courtney Backman, Mona Barber, Tracey Breese, Allison Chappell, Casey Collins, Ishani Grover, Kelsey Jensen, Kadi O'Brien and Meg Roberts. Novice girls rowers from the Island include Ellie Barber, Susie Chalker, Claire George and Lauren Head.

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