Canisius High School’s lightweight four-oared crew emphatically established itself as the best in North America on Sunday by winning the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championship at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Fla.
The Crusaders made a clean sweep of four major events for youth rowing, winning the New York State, Canadian Secondary Schools, and Scholastic Rowing Association of America regattas before Sunday’s triumph.
Canisius won the lightweight youth four title in 6 minutes, 30.860 seconds over second-place Mount Baker of Seattle, which crossed in 6:38.636. The Crusaders won by a healthy margin. They were 5.2 seconds ahead of Mount Baker at the 1,500 mark on the 2,000-meter course. Canisius’ split times were 1:36.9 at 500 meters, 3:14.5 at 1,000 and 4:53.9 at 1,500.
Coach Tom Flaherty’s crew had no special plan for the race held on the same Benderson Park course where the World Championships were held in 2017.
“We have a race plan that we pretty much stick to,” he said. “There are a couple of variations, but we’ve stuck to the basic plan we used in winning in Canada, at Scholastics and the New York State regatta.”
“The boys are pretty seasoned,” Flaherty added. “They have a good feel for the plan and execute it very well.”
Three of the four athletes in the Canisius boat were on the crew that finished third in the same event in last year’s Youth Nationals.
Coxswain John Weckerle, bow Charles Korn and Nathaniel Sass are holdovers from the 2018 boat. The newcomers are Zachary Porter and Zachary Mecca, the only junior among the five. Porter was “on the cusp” of rowing in the first boat last season before moving up this year.
“Porter moved right in. He’s a powerful guy,” Flaherty said.
The Canisius seniors are all headed for college, most to row. Korn plans to row at Boston College, Porter expects to row at Mercyhurst, Sass is headed to Boston University, where he intends to row heavyweights, and Weckerle will go to Binghamton, which does not have a varsity rowing program.
Most of the Canisius rowers have been at it since they were freshmen and they train year around, starting on the water in the fall, indoor training during winter and back on the water when the weather breaks.
The Crusaders train as the Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association on Ohio Street. Their water training is on the Buffalo River.
“These guys are dedicated and very focused,” Flaherty said. “They are all about each other and all about the team and about setting a leadership example. You couldn’t ask for anybody better than these guys.”
The Canisius crew started the week with a 6:07.922 clocking to win Thursday’s time trial. That assured the Crusaders and eight other crews in one of the two semifinals on Saturday. The other three slots went to crews that went through repechage heats.
Canisius won its semifinal in 6:36.753 on Saturday. Mount Baker was second in the same heat. New Canaan (Conn.) won the other semifinal heat and finished third in the final.
The Crusaders’ rowers arrived at the regatta site at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday because the race schedule was bumped due to an expected weather problem. Canisius recorded its victory before 8 a.m.
When they arrived in Buffalo after a late Sunday night flight from Orlando, they arrived as undisputed champions.