After McLean All-Met Caroline Berson won the national championship in the girls' senior single final at Saturday's Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Championships at Lake Mercer, N.J., Berson's teammates jumped in the water to congratulate her. Despite the solitary nature of rowing a single, the group celebration was fitting as, literally, a boatload of people has helped Berson reach new heights as a sculler.
Because the National Capital Area Scholastic Rowing Association -- the sport's governing body in the area -- does not sanction single boats, Berson has spent much of the past two seasons practicing on her own, leading to top-three finishes at nationals both years. In February, Berson joined up with coaches at the Potomac Boat Club to improve her method. For the first time since she began rowing the single, Berson has gone into regattas with a set race plan.
"For the past two years, I've had the strength, but not the technique," Berson said. "They helped me take my stroke apart and really focus in on the parts that needed work."
In anticipation of rowing in an eight at Yale next season, she also worked out a deal with McLean Coach Chris Gordon to be a part of the Highlanders' senior eight until the first major national race of the year, Philadelphia's annual Stotesbury Regatta.
Berson also credited her parents, step-parents and grandfather, who purchased a new boat for Berson last month, for continued assistance during her career.
Berson's diverse support structure has allowed her to move ahead of rivals. At Stotesbury, Berson finished second, but bested Michelle King of Lyme-Old Lyme High School (Conn.). King had defeated Berson at last year's U.S. Junior World Championships trials. At nationals, Berson trounced Kate Strzalkowski from St. Catharines Collegiate (Ontario, Canada) -- the Stotesbury winner -- winning by more than eight seconds after a powerful move at the end of the race that had the McLean faithful ecstatic.
"I was running down the last 500 meters," Gordon said. "The whole team was screaming for her. It was just wonderful, a fantastic race. It was a nice culmination of a very strong season."
The national championship is the second for Berson, who rowed as part of a senior quad that took gold during her freshman season. That boat also won Stotesbury and advanced to one of the most prestigious races in the world: the Henley Women's Regatta on the Thames River in England.
Now, Berson has turned her attention to the Junior World Championships in Germany in early August. She will attempt to qualify for the regatta at the trials later this month, also at Lake Mercer.
"I think every race is unique," she said. "You're only a champion for a day and the next day you have to get up and do it again."
Washington-Lee's boys' lightweight eight also took home a championship at nationals by defeating nemesis St. Joseph's Prep (Pa.) by more than 2.5 seconds. St. Joseph's had beaten the Generals at Stotesbury the previous week after Washington-Lee took home that title last season.
The Generals' first-place finish headed a group of seven area boats aside from Berson's to make the finals in top races at the regatta: T.C. Williams's girls' lightweight eight (fifth), Madison's girls' varsity four (sixth), West Potomac's boys' varsity four (fifth), Jefferson's girls' varsity eight (second), Georgetown Visitation's girls' varsity eight (sixth) and Jefferson's boys' varsity eight (third).