BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — After capturing a championship at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta, the members of the Niskayuna Rowing girls’ Junior 8+ boat kept having the same conversation amongst themselves.
Two wins, that’s great.
Three wins, that’s epic.
“We wanted to win the ‘Triple Crown,”’ sophomore Maddie Rogers said. “All three in a row.”
“They weren’t content,” coach Stacey Apfelbaum said. “They were hungry. They were so hungry. They wanted to go after it.”
And, they did. At the May 27-28 Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta — the sport’s national championships for scholastic rowers in Nashport, Ohio — the Niskayuna team of Jie Jie Bennett, Lizzie Hoole, Rogers, Kat Molina, Arielle Behar, Marina Angelopolous, Julia Walters, Emily Meade and Hannah Meade captured its final championship of the spring season with a mark of 5:13.765, more than four seconds better than the second-place finisher.
“We won by open water,” Apfelbaum said.
The latest incredible feat for an incredible boat.
Niskayuna’s boat — made up of three juniors and six sophomores — won at state championships, Stotesbury and nationals. That string of wins made the Niskayuna boat the only one in the region to win titles at all three competitions this year.
The group took each race one at a time. It was only after winning at Stotesbury that the girls started thinking about nationals and how they had the chance to complete the a trifecta.
“We’d been talking amongst ourselves about the triple crown, and how if we didn’t get it we’d be very disappointed,” said Hoole, a sophomore. “But, deep down, we all knew we were going to win. We knew we had a great chance of doing well.”
“We wanted to finish it,” said Walters, a junior.
Apfelbaum said the boat’s athletes started working in earnest toward this spring’s competitions last summer. Lots of work there and in the fall, she said, had the group of athletes ready to push themselves to another level this spring.
“They really all committed themselves to doing well,” the coach said. “That set the stage for them for this year.”
Many of the team’s athletes rowed together last year as a freshman-level boat. Mixing together this year’s sophomores and juniors, though, was never an issue.
“We’re a close team,” said Angelopoulos, a junior. “It was a smooth transition.”
What was tough was that Niskayuna entered the crew in senior-level races throughout the spring. The boat moved down to the Junior level before states and went undefeated from there. Plus, heading into nationals, Angelopoulos said her team knew it would be the boat to beat in the eyes of the competition.
“We were confident going into the finals, but we also knew that since we’d won a couple races people would be gunning for us,” she said. “We were calm, but understood people would be coming for us.”
Before races, the boat broke the tension by listening to a Flo Rida song and dancing along to it. With each race this spring, the girls’ coach said the song was played louder from the boat’s sound system.
“Their ability to loosen up was great,” Apfelbaum said. “They had fun with each other and I think that was the key to their success.”
The fun should continue next school year, too, when the boat has the chance to stay together as a senior-level competitor.
“Nobody’s leaving, nobody’s graduating,” Rogers said. “We know we could have the same lineup next year, so we’re just really excited.”
By that time, too, maybe the team’s streak of wins will seem less like a dream.
“I say to myself over and over that we won nationals,” Hoole said. “It still hasn’t set in.”