North Xtra: North Allegheny team takes another crack at rowing nationals
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For the second consecutive year, Jake Lennon, John Rectenwald, Nick Neugebauer and Sam Sheridan are spending the second weekend of June in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
They couldn't be happier.
The foursome from North Allegheny High School is heading to the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships for the second year in a row in Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge.
Lennon, Rectenwald and Neugebauer -- who are all seniors -- and Sheridan, a junior, won the varsity quad at the Midwest Qualifier last month in Bethel, Ohio.
The fact the four athletes are back in nationals is no coincidence. After all, they dedicated the past year to working together.
"We row together very well," Lennon said. "All year round we've really been focusing on developing a chemistry together and understanding how each other moves. No matter what boat we get into, with each other we automatically have a good feel for each other and feel we can be competitive with the other teams."
The North Allegheny rowers were that last season, placing 18th at nationals. Just getting to the competition is an accomplishment because it requires winning a regional qualifier.
This season, a top-six finish is the general goal floated by Lennon and Rectenwald. That would represent competing in the final heat for the championship.
Rectenwald said he and his three teammates have each lowered their times in training, particularly throughout the winter on indoor machines. The group is part of the successful North Allegheny rowing program.
Sending a boat to nationals is a feather in the organization's cap. Doing it two years in a row is even more gratifying. The crew believes it will be better off for the experience this time.
"Last year, we had a good time," Lennon said. "It was good for us. We were kind of going into it almost a little behind because we were a lot younger than everyone else. We didn't really know what to expect.
"Now that we've gotten the chance to race all those teams, we're feeling a little stronger going into the race this year. The teams that were the elite, the top six or seven, we've raced most of them ... and we came close and even beat some of them early in the season. We're excited to go back and see how we can do."
Lennon will compete for Mercyhurst's rowing program beginning next year; Rectenwald is heading to Northeastern University. Neugebauer also perhaps has a college career ahead of him.
This weekend will provide the last truly big race the group will be able to race in together.
"They're my closest friends, just spending two, three hours a day with them, six days a week, whatever it's been, we've been together now for almost two years," Rectenwald said. "More than anything, that's what's helped us succeed so much.
"We have so much chemistry in the boat. We work, really, as just one rower -- it's not four different rowers as much as it's us working all together, just because we've been doing it for so long."
The varsity quad is a four-person race over 2,000 meters -- still considered a "sprint" but slightly longer than what the typical scholastic sprint covers.
This particular foursome has won several races over the spring this season, representing a North Allegheny team that has also qualified junior varsity boats for nationals.
More experienced, stronger, faster and better prepared, this North Allegheny varsity quad of Lennon, Rectenwald, Neugebauer and Sheridan wants to end their unofficial high school careers in the best way possible -- together.
"One of the hesitancies I have about rowing in college is that it will be with a whole new group of guys when I'm just so used to rowing with these three other guys," Rectenwald said. "I can't imagine any other crew being as good. That's definitely motivating me to give it my all this weekend -- this is the last big race I have with these guys.
"We've talked about going to some races this summer, but none will be on the level of this or with the level of competition at this race. This is our last chance to prove ourselves and what we've done together over the last two years. That's really driving me."
First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 am