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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: Head Games

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Head Games

Fall rowing all about mind over matter

The Head of the Fish annual rowing regatta is the culmination of the fall racing season for many crews that travel to compete on Fish Creek the final weekend of October each year.

The entire fall season and this weekend’s 4,000-meter race provide each boat with an opportunity to face their toughest competition, the stopwatch. It is each boat against the clock; the fastest time gets the glory.

“You always have to pretend there is a boat next to you,” Saratoga Rowing Association’s Courtney Kruger said. “You need a lot of motivation.”

During the fall season, boats are started down the rowing course individually and timed accordingly. In the spring, the races are shorter, mostly 1,500-meters and 2,000- contest where the boats are lined up across from each other similar to a track meet. The spring races often include heat races, semifinals and then finals with the top boats advancing.

On Saturday, competitors had more than enough time to complete their race, relax, regroup, remove their racing shell from the water, remove the rigging and place it back on the trailer before ever finding out who was the top boat.

“Three of my crews came off the water today with bright smiles calling it the best row ever,” SRA executive director and girls varsity coach Eric Catalano said. “We were fortunate enough that they all resulted in a win.”

Saratoga rowing earned eight fish head trophies, the most unique award in any sport, baked and lacquered fish heads mounted on a plaque often spruced up with paint, eyelashes and fish hooks. The SRA also saw eight boats earn second place medals and another eight earn bronze medals Saturday.

In the spring season a winner is determined at the finish line, edging out the boats adjacent to you. In the fall, passing a competitor on the course provides a tremendous boost to the moral of the boat and is often considered a key to success by rowers.

“There is a bit of gamesmanship in the fall,” Catalano explained. “Even if you pass five boats on the course, someone else can pass six. The real learning curve is to row the boat as fast as you can go, that is how you win races.”

Saratoga’s Maddie Tucci earned a gold medal and now shares a fish head trophy with Carolyn Williams in the women’s junior lightweight double, capping her favorite season, the fall.

“The key is to keep a high rating (strokes per minute), but maintain pressure,” Tucci said. “It’s harder to stay focused in the fall and keep the rating, but we motivate ourselves.”

The duo set a personal record, rowing the 2.5 mile race in 13 minutes, 27.76 seconds.
In larger boats, the rowers are motivated and informed about the race events by the coxswain.

“You have to have a good coxswain,” Saratoga’s Columbia Herzlinger said. “You have to pace yourself. You can go all out in the first part of the race and have nothing left. We’ve seen a lot of boats ‘fly and die.’”

The Saratoga women’s eights all earned gold medals in the first, second and third varsity races.

Saturday also provided the rowers with something they expect at the every Head of the Fish, rain. The rain went from constant, to light to a steady downpour throughout the day, but the race course, Fish Creek, remained flat for the rowers.

“We love to row in the rain,” Herzlinger said. “We row in it all the time, so it doesn’t bother us.”

Racing continues this morning as Fish Creek becomes home to the collegiate and masters division rowers. More than 50 races will go off today with the competition expected to be completed at 1 p.m.

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