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    McLean boys, Wakefield girls capture Virginia rowing championships

    If the weather deteriorated Saturday afternoon, the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships officials had a contingency plan. If necessary, the fastest varsity eight boats from the morning’s heats would be declared state champions.

    Nate McClafferty, the McLean boys’ rowing coach, and Russell Topp, the Wakfield girls’ coach, both told their rowers to prepare to race in the afternoon. Both teams got their second shot, and as the thunder held off at the Occoquan River at Sandy Run Regional Park in Fairfax County, both the Wakefield girls (5 minutes 21.7 seconds) and the McLean boys (4:42.6) emerged as state champions.

    “It started to rain around the middle of the day, but usually we row on the Potomac River, where conditions are probably worse 90 percent of the time,” McLean senior Jake Edelstein said. “We’re ready for days like this. This win was awesome.”

    McLean, which won three straight state titles between 2018 and 2021, aimed to restore its status as Virginia’s top varsity eight after its reign was interrupted by the Wakefield boys last season. In the six weeks leading up to the race, McClafferty said, the team cumulatively rowed 1.8 million meters outside of its scheduled practice time.

    “Last year, coming in second, the boys weren’t too happy about that,” McClafferty said. “It was a wakeup call that this is a competitive league, and on any rainy Saturday anybody can win.”

    This year, they outlasted challenges from West Springfield (4:43.9, 1.3 seconds back) and Madison (4:48.5). They also swept the second, third and fourth varsity races for the first time in program history.

    “Without those 1.8 million meters, I don’t know if we would have won by those 1.3 seconds,” senior Max Blacksten said.

    For the Wakefield girls, Saturday provided vindication. After first-place finishes in 2021 and 2022, the Warriors felt as though they were on the cusp of a dynasty. A three-peat, they deemed, would clear that bar. But with each of the top six seeded teams having lost to another at some point during the regular season, it became hard to guarantee triumph.

    “Once we got toward the end, our coxswain called ‘Black out’ — and I was rowing so hard I thought I might actually black out,” senior Sarah Middleton said, laughing.

    The final push was enough, as they held off Yorktown (5:23.9, 2.2 seconds back) and W.T. Woodson (5:26.6). The top-three finishers in each of the top varsity eight races secured an automatic qualification for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America national championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn., on May 26 and 27.

    “We’ve all put Wakefield on the map,” senior Abby Berner said. “We’re here to stay. We’re entering a dynasty. We’ve got it.”

    The Alexandria City girls (5:28.4) joined the McLean boys (4:51.9) as dominant victors in the second varsity eight races, winning by 6.4 and 4.5 seconds respectively, while the Norfolk Academy boys (5:26.3) and West Springfield girls (6:01.2) won the varsity four races.

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