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Wakefield boys and girls sweep Virginia rowing championships

Wakefield's girls beat Oakton by less than a second at Saturday's VASRA meet. (Steven Panfil)
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Throughout the past decade, Wakefield’s teams arrived at the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Association state championships with noticeably fewer rowers than the area’s powerhouse programs, which often compete with 100-person rosters.

At Saturday’s regatta, however, the Warriors stood just as deep as any other school on the Occoquan River and stepped into the dynasty conversation themselves, with the boys’ and girls’ top varsity eight boats each rowing to titles.

“This felt like the culmination of four years,” senior captain Kate Gillen said. “It felt like a dream.”

The Wakefield girls were led by a dedicated senior class that captured a varsity title in 2021 and a novice title in 2019. Competing with assistance from a tail wind this year, the Warriors crossed the finish line in 5 minutes 7.2 seconds to edge out Oakton (5:07.9) and Alexandria City (5:09.9). With the podium placements, all three boats secured automatic qualifications for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America national championships in Camden, N.J., on May 27 and 28.

“It’s crazy to end with the same girls I started with and to know that we’ve never lost to a VASRA team on this racecourse and never will,” Gillen said.

To many of the rowers, the victories represented the dividends of a years-long effort to make rowing more visible and Wakefield’s teams more accessible. Several years ago, the coaches began setting up visits and summer camps at local middle schools to increase the sport’s familiarity in Arlington; several current seniors picked up the sport at these camps.

The staff, led by assistant coach Brook Yimer, also made concerted efforts to make the team more representative of its school’s student body, offering financial assistance and recruiting from within the school.

“Rowing is really highly seen as an upper-middle-class, White sport. … We are really just trying to push that we will turn no one away from this team who is willing to work hard,” Coach David Noyes said. “We have a lot of scholarship athletes on the team, people who are at school with free and reduced lunches who row for free, which is not necessarily something they might have the opportunity to do elsewhere.”

The Wakefield boys secured their title in 4:32.0, closing out ahead of McLean (4:35.0) and Alexandria City (4:35.5) in the final 400 meters just one year after their last-place result at the same regatta — when they were so undermanned they had to call up a rower from the novice team.

“Our girls’ team had been dominant over the past few years, and I think that really just lit a fire under the boys’ team,” senior captain Mac Fuqua said, adding that both teams are projected to grow in size and speed in the coming years. “This is just the start for Wakefield.”

In the varsity four races, the Yorktown girls (5:49.6) captured their second consecutive championship, while Robinson (5:04.0) won on the boys’ side.