The Commencement Bay Rowing Club recently got a perfect way to celebrate its 20-year anniversary – a national championship. For the first time in its history, the club had a team of youth rowers claim a national title when Kadie Brown, Kathleen Petrich, Courtney Thompson, Natalie Reetz and Aelish Lambert won the 4+ (four with coxswain) race at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships on June 10 in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
“You’re up against the top (four-person boats) in the entire country,” said coach Dan Packard. “For a small club like Commencement Bay to compete against those clubs is big for us. To go to nationals and win it…I had no idea first place was going to be an option for us.”
Coming back from an early deficit, the team gained the lead in the final half of the 2,000-meter race to finish in seven minutes and 22.17 seconds, over two seconds ahead of second-place finisher Cincinnati Junior.
“We knew our strategy,” said Lambert, a sophomore at Curtis High School who serves as the boat’s coxswain. “We were pretty much in fourth (place) in the first 1,000 (meters), in the middle 500 we were just sitting tight in third, and the last 500 was ‘Lock it in. We’ve got to go now.’”
“During nationals that was our move we were known for, we held for that last half and pushed forward,” added Brown, a junior at Annie Wright who had earlier teamed with Bellarmine Prep’s Hailey Drangsholt to take fifth place in the Youth 2- (pair without coxswain) race.
“She had a really big weekend,” said Packard of Brown, “because at a minimum she would do six 2k’s in a three-day period, and that’s never an easy task.”
Petrich, a senior at Bellarmine Prep, Reetz, a senior at Fife High School, and Thompson, a senior at Curtis, completed the group that never lost a single heat in any regatta during the spring season.
Making the national championship more impressive is that Commencement Bay, a club with just 33 youth rowers, was pitted against teams with much more numbers to choose from.
“Our ability to go against these big clubs with 100’s of rowers on their team has helped us,” Lambert said. “Our competitiveness and ability to handle it is what has pushed us through.”
Brown added that not only outside competition, but competition within the team itself is what drove the girls to succeed.
“I think because of the fact we had five varsity rowers and four spots in the boat, no one ever became complacent and no one took it easy,” said Brown, who is currently training in Connecticut for a chance to row on the national team. “We just kept having to do more. It was just that competition between us that kept us going forward.”
The group earned the chance to compete at nationals following a win at the Regional Regatta on May 18-20 in Vancouver, Wash. The national championships featured the top 18 boats in the nation per category, with over 1,500 rowers represented from around the nation. Bellarmine Prep’s Jacob Morton also represented Commencement Bay well, taking eighth place in the Men’s Youth 1X (single scull). And for Packard and his team, the memory of a national title will not wash away any time soon.
“Through the middle 1,000 we were able to keep our good strong pace and move through the pack effectively,” Packard said. “It was exciting to see, and they were able to sprint it out in the end…It was a well-deserved medal for the club and for the rowers. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”