CHESTERTOWN, MD -- Pardon the pun, but the Washington College men's rowing team made a big splash last spring. The Shoremen's varsity eight won the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Rowing Conference (MARC) Championship, marking the program's first-ever conference title, and Washington took home the overall points trophy from the event as well.
The team has thrived under head coach John Leekley, a 2001 Washington College graduate now in his fourth year at the helm of the Shoremen. Named the MARC's Coach of the Year each of the past two seasons, Leekley has seen the Shoremen's roster grow from 20 student-athletes his first season to its current number of 37. The increase in both quantity and quality has enabled the Shoremen to compete at a higher level.
"We've moved from the small boats (fours) to the big boats (eights) in the past two years, and that's where the fastest boats in college rowing are," notes Leekley.
Six rowers return from last spring's conference championship-winning varsity eight: graduate student captain Brandon Riker (Marlboro, VT/Twin Valley), senior captain Will Herland (Seattle, WA/Lakeside School), senior captain Michael Zaborskiy (Novosibirsk City, Russia/American School of Bangkok [Thailand]), senior Reno Smith (Ocean City, MD/Worcester Prep), sophomore Parker McIntosh (Berlin, MD/Worcester Prep), and sophomore Robert Storck (Wilton, CT/St. Mark's School [MA]). Zaborskiy was an All-MARC selection in 2009, while McIntosh was named the team's Most Improved Rower in 2010.
Senior Susanne Vaughn (Bel Air, MD/John Carroll) was the coxswain of the Shoremen's varsity four last spring and served as coxswain of the Shoremen's varsity eight this past fall. Junior Sean Harrison (Richmond, VA/Hazelton Area [PA]) and sophomore Mitch Witherow (Ocean City, MD/Stephen Decatur) also rowed in the varsity eight during the fall racing season.
Competition for seats in the Shoremen's top boats this spring is fierce as six other rowers with experience in varsity or junior varsity-level races also return from last year's team - senior David Smaus (Princeton, NJ/Princeton), juniors Miqdad Annab (Mechanicsburg, PA/Cumberland Valley), Zack Holocker (Centreville, MD/Queen Anne's County) and Brian Haluska (Chesterfield, NJ/Notre Dame), and sophomores Lawrence Baker (Shady Side, MD/Southern) and Kyle Benk (Bloomsburry, NJ/Phillipsburg). Baker was an All-MARC Novice selection as a freshman. In addition to Vaughn, two other coxswains with collegiate experience return from last year's team as well - senior Eric Swenson (Chatham, NJ/Chatham) and sophomore Jeff Nutting (Catonsville, MD/Mount St. Joseph).
The depth of this team doesn't stop with the returners. The Shoremen finished the fall season by winning silver medals in the novice four at back-to-back regattas - the Head of the Schuylkill and the Head of the Occoquan. Freshman coxswain Chris Moylan (Silver Spring, MD/DeMatha), freshman Blake Weishaar (Denton, MD/Sts. Peter & Paul), freshman Robert Billings (Easton, MD/Easton), and sophomore Aric Charowsky (Townsend, DE/St. Thomas More Prep) each won two silver medals; freshmen Dominic DiMarino (Wilmington, DE/Concord) and Max Villa (Great Meadows, NJ/Pope John XXIII) each won one medal as the boat's bow. DiMarino and fellow freshmen Colin Mitchell (Burlingame, CA/Burlingame) and Jack McCarthy (Long Beach Island, NJ/The Hun School) each saw time in the Shoremen's junior varsity eight this past fall, while freshman Nick Stewart (Greenwich, CT/Greenwich) saw time in both the junior varsity eight and the varsity eight.
"I'm really excited about our freshman class," Leekley comments. "A lot of those guys have been pushing the older guys on the ergs this winter. We also have a few guys moving up from last year's novice eight who will compete for seats as well."
Leekley and third-year novice coach Ashleigh Genevich, a 2008 graduate, will guide the Shoremen through a challenging spring schedule that includes home regattas against Clark (the spring opener on March 13th) and Philadelphia University (April 2nd) and stops at the Murphy Cup in Philadelphia (March 26th), the Knecht Cup in Cherry Hill, NJ, (April 9th and 10th), and the Worcester Invitational in Worcester, MA (April 16th). The Shoremen will look to repeat as champions at the 2011 MARC Championships on April 30th in York County, PA, and will compete at the prestigious Dad Vail regatta in Philadelphia May 13th and 14th.
"There are really no cupcakes on our schedule," states Leekley. "Each week we will see a number of crews from Division I or Division II schools and the Worcester Invite is going to be the fastest Division III schools in the country -Trinity, Bates, and WPI. They'll be faster than a lot of the upper division schools. The conference championships will be tougher this year, and the Dad Vail is always the best racing we will see all year."
Last year's historic conference championship was a significant accomplishment for the Shoremen, but Leekley and his team don't intend on stopping there. The leaps and bounds the team has grown by over the past four years may just be the beginning of a consistently elite program.
"Expectations are pretty high after last year," Leekley points out. "I'm hopeful, though. There's a lot of good energy at the boathouse right now. It's a ton of work to get where we want to go, but if these guys keep working as hard as they have, I think we have a good chance of getting there."