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Jackson-Reed rowing, a national champion, takes its show to England

The Tigers will compete in the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta on the River Thames

The Jackson-Reed boys’ top varsity boat rows in England before competing in the Henley Royal Regatta. (Ali McMullin)
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When sophomore Bronwen Holmes got the call to shift from coxing the Jackson-Reed girls’ third-fastest varsity boat to the boys’ fastest boat — right before the boys’ two national championship races — she was apprehensive.

“I have a really great relationship with all the girls, and I was definitely a little saddened to be leaving the team, but the guys were all super welcoming,” said Holmes, who steered the boys to victories at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta and Scholastic Rowing Association of America nationals, the country’s biggest races for high school teams. “It was definitely shocking to go from the girls’ team on kind of a lower boat to being a national champion.”

Now, after staking its claim as the fastest scholastic boys’ boat in the country, Jackson-Reed is in England for one final event, becoming the area’s first boys’ team since 2017 to compete in the Henley Royal Regatta on the River Thames, perhaps the world’s most prestigious rowing event.

The Tigers will compete in the Princess Elizabeth Cup Challenge, which features a 32-boat bracket, with the world’s fastest boys’ high school boats competing in one-on-one matchups. Their first-round race is Tuesday against England’s Reading Blue Coat School.

For Jackson-Reed, formerly known as Wilson High, qualifying for the regatta would be a major accomplishment even under normal circumstances, and doing so with its fifth coxswain of the season added to the degree of difficulty. On their winding path to Henley, a couple of the Tigers’ coxswains left the program for personal reasons, and two more struggled to offer the same direction Holmes could. A majority of teams, Coach Joe McMullin said, keep the same coxswain for the entire year.

“You ask any varsity coach out there, ‘How do you end up being successful like that?’ ” McMullin said. “It’s damn near impossible.”

Jackson-Reed will face new hurdles in international waters. Andrew Hohlt, a first-team All-Met selection, won’t be allowed to compete because the regatta’s age cutoff is 18 and he turns 19 on Monday. Fellow senior Vance Gootman won’t appear, either, because he attended School Without Walls despite rowing for Jackson-Reed.

McMullin first referred to Henley as the team’s ultimate goal in September, and it quickly resonated. The team hit 95 percent attendance during the “optional” winter training practices, a mark previously met only by the 2019 team that won SRAA nationals but lacked the fundamentals of the 2022 class.

The intensity that appeared throughout the winter and spring has persisted since the team arrived in England on June 16, even as Jackson-Reed enters with virtually “no expectations,” senior Alessandro Topa said. Sure, the Tigers have experienced some of the country’s culture, including a trip to Shrewsbury Castle, but the first place they went after exiting the plane was the water, getting in a rowing session before unpacking.

“Sophomore year, I heard there was a race in the U.K. that we might have the opportunity to go to,” Topa said. “It is what has driven me to be good at rowing.”