San Diego Rowing Club: Junior Women win bronze at Nationals

San Diego Rowing Club’s junior women rowers claimed a bronze medal at the 2015 U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in a hard-fought, photo-finish race against some of the fastest quadruples sculls rowers in the country.

The Varsity Women’s team of Mariko Kelly, Jillian Renly, Delaney Lindsay and Samantha Shao surged to the finish line in a blazing 7:00.99, just 0.05 of a second ahead of regional rival Long Beach Rowing Club, seizing the bronze in the Women’s Youth 4x (four rowers, eight oars). SDRC’s split-second victory followed two days of competition that narrowed a field of 24 boats to just six advancing to the showcase final.

San Diego’s Varsity Men bolstered the team’s strong showing at nationals, with all three local boats advancing through crowded fields in heats and semifinals to grand finals. In races that announcers described as “dazzling” and a “barn burner,” Varsity Men sprinted to fourth-place finishes in two races and sixth-place in another.

The team’s four Top 6 finishes raised San Diego’s profile among the nation’s best youth rowing clubs. More than 150 teams had qualified for nationals across multiple categories of boats. SDRC’s strong showing capped a season led by Varsity Women’s Coach Susan Francia and Varsity Men’s Coach Benton Sparks.

“This weekend at Youth nationals was a tremendous step in making San Diego Rowing Club a top-tier rowing club in the country,” said Coach Francia, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the u.S. Women’s Rowing Team.

“All crews raced to their potential and it was fun to see so many red SDRC boats out in front,” she said. “In the women’s 4x, the girls were on a mission. They were not intimidated by the competition and fought for the win. It was a very gutsy race the whole way down the course. At 500 meters, the Long Beach crew had snuck up on them and passed them, but they made a big push back and refused to let go of that medal. They ended up getting the bronze by 0.05 seconds. I am incredibly proud of their accomplishment — it’s not bad for having two novice rowers make up half of the boat!”

In the Men’s Youth 4x, SDRC’s Kyle Blackburn, John Carruthers, Andrew Rose and Matthew Piegza raced a tightly competitive field to a fourth-place finish in 6:22. The four had advanced from an original field of 26 boats.

SDRC also placed fourth at nationals out of 21 entries in Men’s Youth Lightweight 2x (double sculls, two rowers, four oars), as rowers Alexander Cowan and Jack Piegza powered down the competitive course in 7:11.4.

SDRC placed sixth at nationals out of 19 entries in the Men’s Youth 2x, with rowers Cooper Ball and James Jacoby facing their “barn burner” of a race, running the course in 6:52.

More than 1,500 of the nation’s best rowers on 150 teams and from 30 states were represented at the three-day event. It was billed as the largest field for a u.S. Rowing national Youth Championship yet.

To qualify for nationals, the San Diego boats medaled at regional competition in Sacramento in May.

In addition to racing at nationals, five of SDRC’s graduating seniors were among 275 who participated in the first u.S. Rowing Graduation Celebration, held to honor senior athletes, many of whom missed their high school graduation ceremonies to compete for rowing titles at nationals. SDRC senior rowers included Blackburn, Cowan, Jacoby, Kelly and Jack Piegza. All five plan to row in college as well.

A number of SDRC’s rowers have been invited by u.S. Rowing to attend elite training camps this summer where they will compete for a small number of spots on the u.S. Rowing Junior national Team or train with a u.S. Rowing High Performance or Development Camp. Rowers ultimately selected will have the opportunity to represent the u.S. at Junior World Championships in August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Want to know more?

■ SDRC Junior Crew, with 120 members, rows on Mission Bay out of its boathouse on el Carmel Point in Mission Beach.

■ SDRC is hosting Learn to Row and training camps on Mission Bay this summer, for boys and girls, ages 11-18. each camp is two weeks long and meets 10 times. Former national Team rower and SDRC Juniors Program Head Coach Chris Callaghan ( will lead the camps. No previous experience is required.