It doesn't take much to get Neil Stanga's motor running. Just get him racing in a regatta.
For the second straight season, the recent Washington-Lee graduate and two-time All-Met showed that he is among the country's best rowers 18 and younger by making the U.S. Junior National team. He will compete in the men's eight at the Junior World Rowing Championships beginning Wednesday in Brandenburg, Germany.
The opportunity to match up against some of the best young rowers in the world has Stanga revved up in a way not unfamiliar to those who have raced with him.
"Some of the guys poke fun at me that I start making noises like an engine during a [race]," Stanga said. "I really get into it and empty the tank out there."
Despite this machine-like effort, no one is comparing Stanga's style to "the little engine that could." At 6 feet 8 and 230 pounds, Stanga is the biggest rower on the team, and one of only three to make the junior men's eight two years in a row. That mix of size and experience helped make him a leader throughout the team's long selection process.
"In a six-week selection camp, and now that we have to go race for another two weeks, most guys break down at least once or twice, but Neil has yet to falter at all," said Marty Crotty, the U.S. men's junior national coach. "He's been the cornerstone for the camp and the cornerstone for the team. He makes for a great foundation."
Stanga is not the only local rower competing in Germany. McLean All-Met Caroline Berson will row in the junior women's single for the U.S. team. Berson, who will attend Yale University, had one of the most successful high school seasons in the area, winning the national championship in single sculling at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America national championships in May.
Stanga also helped his high school team to its strongest season in recent history, with the Generals' varsity eight making the finals at the annual Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia. Washington-Lee Coach Derek Parsons called Stanga the best all-around rower he's had in his nine seasons as coach.
"Neil's a competitor," Parsons said. "Even if he was the same size as everybody else he would set himself apart during races. When it comes down to racing situations, that's when his personality shines through."
The U.S. team, which finished fifth last year, will need a big race-day effort from Stanga to reach the awards podium in Germany. Crotty said that he expects strong competition during the three-day event from defending champion Romania as well as Germany, Great Britain and Russia. Stanga, for one, is ready for the challenge.
"I'm just a racer," Stanga said. "This year especially, all the guys in my boat are racers. We're really fired up and looking forward to seeing if we can medal."
After the Junior Worlds, Stanga will take his talents to Princeton University, one of the top rowing schools in the country. Last season, the Tigers' men's heavyweight eight won the silver medal at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships.