PNRA/Mercer Rowers Win Bids to USRowing Youth National Championships

Mercer Rowing Program Men’s Varsity 8+ racing at the Mid-Atlantic Junior Regional Championship on Mercer Lake.

May 15, 2017

West Windsor, NJ – In spite of torrential rain on Saturday and associated changes to the racing schedule mandated by USRowing officials, the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Mercer Rowing Club earned six bids to the 2017 USRowing Youth National Championships by winning medals at the Mid-Atlantic Youth Championships.  PNRA/Mercer boats have been invited to compete in the women’s youth eight with coxswain (8+), the men’s youth 8+, the women’s youth lightweight 8+, the men’s youth lightweight four with coxswain (4+), and two crews in the men’s pair without coxswain (2-) events at the National Championships taking place at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida, on June 9-11, 2017.  Sending six boats to compete in the USRowing Youth National Championships would be a high-water mark for the club, which is led by Justin Ochal in his second year as Mercer Program Director and third year as Boys’ Varsity Coach.  

Hosted by PNRA, the Mid-Atlantic Youth Regional Championships took place on Mercer Lake in Mercer County, NJ this past weekend and featured crews from 42 clubs and schools based in five states and the District of Columbia.  It is one of twelve USRowing regional qualifying regattas held this month leading up to the national championship regatta for high school aged crews. 

Weather conditions on Saturday resulted in a decision by race officials to utilize a single time trial in qualifying events to determine invitations to the Youth National Championships, rather than the usual two-day progression of heats, semi-finals, and finals.  In a time trial, each boat is sent out at a regular interval and races against the clock to secure the fastest time.  The crews with the three fastest times in each event with more than three entries were awarded medals.  

PNRA/Mercer placed first in the women’s youth eight plus coxswain event by a wide margin, despite the challenging circumstances.  “Time trials can be difficult because no crews are around you to help you measure how you are doing,” said co-captain senior Celia Varga (Princeton Day School).  

“The weather conditions were not optimal,” said co-captain senior Laila Shehab (Hunterdon Valley Central High School). “But experiences like that are going to make you a better rower, technically and mentally.” 

“We couldn’t worry about things beyond our control.  We had to lay it all on the line, listen to our coxswain, and row our own race,” added Varga.  The boat was coxed by senior Caroline Galati (West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South) and in addition to Varga and Shehab, included junior Katryna Niva (Hunterdon Valley Central High School), junior Emmanuelle Adamson (Princeton High School), senior Katie Lustig and junior Kieran Wild (both from Council Rock North High School), as well as juniors Mia Barkenbush and Sara Hansen (both from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South). 

PNRA/Mercer’s men’s youth 8+ crew experienced an odd turn of events related to its time trial.  When results were posted initially, PNRA/Mercer was announced as the first-place boat. Later, after individual judges’ stop watches were re-evaluated, Gonzaga High School was listed with a time of 6:30.08, just ahead of PNRA/Mercer’s 6:30.29.  Both crews received bids to the Youth National Championships where they are likely to compete against each other once again.  The PNRA/Mercer men’s youth 8+ crew includes sophomore Jack Gallagher (Council Rock North High School), co-captain senior Daniel Stoddard (West Windsor Plainsboro High School South), senior Chris Silva (Hopewell Valley Central High School), junior Eli Kalfaian (Delaware Valley Regional High School), co-captain senior Andrew Hickey (Notre Dame High School), co-captain senior Carter Levine and freshman Leon Deng (both from Princeton High School), senior Rex Berger (The Hun School), and coxswain senior Kate Takacs (Princeton Day School). 

The other medal-winning boys’ crews were the lightweight 4+ which included sophomore Alex Brodowski (Pennsbury High School), senior Enzo Couillens (Hopewell Valley Central High School), sophomore Brady Stergion (Notre Dame High School), senior Tyler Harris (West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North) and coxswain Sarah Brune (Lanoka Harbor, NJ), one pair consisting of junior Andrew Moss and junior Dana Gajewski (both from Princeton High School) and one pair consisting of junior Evan Kinter (Steinhert High School) and senior Lachlan Mersky (Haddonfield High School). 

“We’re taking twice as many guys to Nationals this year, in three different boat classes.  It shows how everyone—from the veteran seniors to the underclassmen—is stepping up to make this a big year for Mercer,” commented co-captain Andrew Hickey. 

The other nationals-qualifying boat is PNRA/Mercer’s lightweight 8+ with the crew of senior Sheila Kennedy-Moore (Princeton High School), junior Maheera Bawa (Montgomery High School), sophomore Jacqueline Armetta (Villa Joseph Marie High School), junior Taylor Vierling (Northern Burlington High School), sophomore Caitie Vinch-Buck (The Pennington School), freshman Eveline Enthoven (Princeton High School), sophomore Chloe Couillens (Hopewell Valley Central High School), junior Julia Berdzik and coxswain junior Lauren Preston (both from Notre Dame High School). 

Co-captain Laila Shehab commented on the culture that first-year coach girls’ coach Matt Carlsen has fostered on the team. “A lot of the girls have learned to push themselves farther than they thought they could.  Coach Matt always says, ‘It’s never enough’.  He can joke and have fun, but he’s no nonsense when it comes to racing.  We’re always racing each other at practice.  We push each other. The lightweight 8+ pushes the varsity 8+. They are little beasts. I’m so excited for them to compete at Youth Nationals and have their first experience competing at that level.  It’s such good racing and then they will bring that knowledge back to the club.”  

About the Princeton National Rowing Association 

The Princeton National Rowing Association, a 501c3 organization, operates the Finn M.W. Caspersen Rowing Center located on the shores of Mercer Lake in West Windsor, New Jersey.  The Princeton National Rowing Association is dedicated operating a world-class training site for our nation’s elite athletes, providing opportunities for area youth to excel in the sport of rowing and to expand rowing in the greater Mercer County area through community based programs.  The Mercer Junior Rowing Program which provides rowing opportunities for the youth from over 25 Mercer County area high schools. The center is a home to the USRowing National and Olympic Teams, as well as rowing clubs and schools, including the Hun School, Lawrenceville School and Peddie School. PNRA received generous support from JLRacing, Holiday Inn and Residence Inn by Marriott. 

For more information, contact Kristopher Grudt, tel: 609-977-1094, or visit