by Andrew Garda

The Montclair High School crew team’s boys varsity eight showed well on the international stage this week, reaching the second round of its competition at the venerable Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames River in England.

Montclair was one of 32 boats to qualify for the Challenge Cup, the event for high school-aged boys. It is one of 23 events at the prestigious regatta, which was first held in 1839.

Back on April 29, MHS became the first public school in the history of the Garden State Scholastic Championships to win the race, which both the boys and girls teams did.

The boys varsity eight also won the school’s first-ever Stotesbury Championship, followed by a win at the SRAA Nationals Regatta on May 27 and another at the National Schools’ Championship Regatta on June 10.

The Mountie rowers — including Henry Vecchione, Kjel Schlemmer, Owen King, Kenny Coplan, Alex Abuhoff, Patrick King, Djoume Traore, George Vrotsos-Rogers, and coxswain Lexi Greenbaum — defeated King’s College of Cambridge, England, by two and a quarter boat lengths in its first-round race in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup.

The race was tight early on, as both MHS and King’s College started off strong. The Mounties had a slight lead, but their opponent was able to keep close. However, Montclair put on a burst of speed and look a boat-length lead at about the 1-minute mark. Soon, they were a length and a half ahead of King’s College and by the middle of the race, MHS was so far ahead that the announcers on the broadcast had already mentioned they would be racing the next day.

The eight would suffer its first defeat of the entire season in that Thursday race, falling by less than a boat length to St. Albans School of Washington, D.C. The Mounties had beaten St. Albans when they won the Stotesbury Cup earlier this season. St. Albans finished third in that regatta.

That course was a bit shorter than the Henley Regatta, though, and the extra distance may have made the difference. According to the announcers on the broadcast, the Stotesbury runs just over 1,500 meters, while the Henley Regatta is over 2,000 meters.

As during the first race, both teams had a strong start, with the Mounties slightly in the lead. Slowly, but surely, St. Albans drove ahead, eating up Montclair’s cushion and then taking the lead for themselves.

That lead would change hands two more times, as MHS refused to give up and fought hard with each length.

At about the halfway mark, the length of the race seemed to start making an impact, and Montclair began to fall behind.

They continued to fight hard, and kept the race close as the two crews headed down the final length of markers, with Greenbaum calling out rapid but even strokes to try and close the distance.

In the end, though, the extra distance seemed to be just a bit too much for the Mounties, and they were never able to close the gap.

Even the locals were impressed with Montclair’s effort. The Henley Standard, a local paper covering Henley-on-Thames and surrounding areas wrote that the team’s “blade work shows they are worthy of their place in the junior men’s eights event” when discussing MHS’ victory over King’s College. They also wrote that the “assured performance” left a good first impression.

The trip to England caps off an incredible year for the Mounties, which saw them win every race they were in during the season in a sport usually dominated by private schools. The Mounties will lose some rowers to graduation, but the remaining members of the varsity eight will form the nucleus of a talented team for next season.