BY MICHAEL KELLY
The senior quad for Niskayuna Rowing almost never left land at its state championships this past weekend.
When it did hit the water, though, the foursome of Reilly Duffy, Kevin Koste, Gideon Schmidt and Kees VandenBerg hardly had to race to pick up a second consecutive state title, topping the field’s runner-up by more than 10 seconds.
“In the final, we went out and did our thing,” said Schmidt, a junior. “We were able to get into cruise mode pretty quickly.”
That was a good thing, too. Two weeks before the state championship race at Fish Creek in Saratoga Springs, Koste found himself in the hospital for a couple days dealing with a nasty bout of viral gastroenteritis.
“My stomach was just killing me,” he said. “It was the most pain I’ve ever had in my life.”
The ailment cost Koste a week’s worth of practices, 10 pounds from his 160-pound frame and left his crew wondering if it could seek a second state title in as many years.
“To be honest,” Duffy said, “I was nervous.”
The foursome had won the junior quad state title in 2014 before bumping up to the highest level for this season. While any rower is eligible for the senior division — Duffy and Koste are seniors at Niskayuna High School, while Schmidt and VandenBerg are juniors — potentially replacing Koste is not as easy as finding a willing replacement.
Forget about the need for a crew to have time to build chemistry and learn how to row together; if head coach Mike Gilbert had wanted to substitute another rower into his team’s senior quad, it would have meant also redoing the lineups for all his boats because of the resulting domino effect.
“So, we probably would have dissolved that boat,” Gilbert said of the senior quad.
Koste ended up making it back to practice in the week leading up to the May 9-10 state championships, but he still was weak. The day before the state championships’ time trials was the only practice in which Koste worked out with his quad teammates, but the foursome elected to give it a go at the state championships despite the less-than-ideal circumstances.
“It was not what you’d want,” Schmidt said. “But it’s what we got.”
What they had was more than good enough. The Niskayuna four got through its time trials in great shape. Heading into the May 10 final, the group was the favorite for a state title — and it delivered with a time of 5:13.260 for the 1,500 meters, more than 10 seconds better than second-place Pelham.
“Past experience. Muscle memory,” was how Gilbert explained his foursome’s ability to pull of the victory despite rarely practicing together in the lead-up to the state championships.
The quad has been rowing together since the 2013 fall season. Gilbert said it was a natural move to put — and keep — the four boys together after seeing how they interacted in the boat.
“They’re very similar,” he said. “They’re all quiet in their approach to the work. They just do it and don’t complain. They’re not cocky, but not shy. They’re all business.”
That attitude has the foursome ready for a frantic conclusion to its spring season. Today and Saturday, the boat will compete at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia. Next weekend, the group is a likely entry at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America national championships in New Jersey.
Off in the future potentially looms an even bigger race. The quad’s win at the state championships qualified it to compete at the June 12-14 U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Florida, but the foursome is not yet sure if it will be able to make the trip south.
“Maybe. Tentatively,” said VandenBerg of the team’s chances of going. “Club nationals, I know those are a huge deal.”
One way or another, though, the foursome is excited for the chance to keep racing together — and back at full strength, now that Koste is back to full health.
“We love our boat,” Koste said. “We have a lot of fun with it.”