Valley’s Veterans and Novices Mesh for Success on the Water
With 18 of the rowers being novices, first-year Head Coach Ashley Malinovsky knew that communication and teamwork would be crucial in order for the Valley Regional crew program to succeed this season. Fortunately, Coach Malinovsky said that the athletes on this year’s team exemplified both of those qualities, helping the Warriors grow throughout the season and then finish their year strong at the Emerson Regatta.
As she stepped into the role of head coach, Malinovsky wanted to ensure that the Valley crew was ready to compete against anyone. However, the Warriors had to first find their sea legs. Valley spent the early part of the year trying to figure out which rowers would yield the best combination in all of their boats.
“As a first-year coach, I was just trying to get my feet on the ground, get to know the team, and understand the environment we were working in,” Coach Malinovsky said. “We wanted to be a successful, competitive team, but we also wanted to see what kind of rowers we had and what we could do with the individual athletes.”
Valley participated in six qualifying races before competing at this year’s Connecticut Public Schools Rowing Association (CPSRA) State Championships. During that time is where the Warriors were able to work out their kinks. While it may have been rocky at first, Malinovsky said that Valley was able to hit its peak at the end of the season once the Warriors solidified their ideal lineup of rowers.
“We had our challenges trying to figure out who went where. We didn’t start great. We really peaked at the end. We got our experience racing against other schools,” said Malinovsky. “Things came together by the end of the season. We had a lot of growth. They shared and passed down knowledge to their peers. It becomes a unified boat if you get a good group that works together and can communicate well. We have a lot of that.”
On May 22, Valley competed at the CPSRA State Championships at Lake Waramaug in New Preston. Batting 95-degree heat, the Warriors boys’ varsity four boat of junior Quentin Baron (coxswain), senior captain Zach Kirla (stroke seat), and seniors Ian Mackenzie, Saagar Patel and Michael Marino (bow) finished in third place by recording a time of 5:51.7.
Baron and Patel were both novices on this year’s team. Coach Malinovsky said that the veteran rowers in the boys’ varsity boat worked together to support them and grow as a collective unit. Malinovsky complimented the team’s technique as they came to understand that the way you row is much more important than displaying raw power on the water.
“Quentin was a first-year rower, but he picked up things quickly. I’m very excited to have him back next year,” Malinovsky said. “Zach and Ian have been rowing together for a long time. Saagar was a senior novice and did an incredible job. Those four worked together to bring Saagar up. They put together a strong boat.”
On June 5, the Valley crew finished its season by competing at the Emerson Regatta in Middletown. The Warriors notched two first-place finishes as a team to go with an individual first-place performance from Kirla in the boys’ 1X race.
Valley’s varsity girls’ four boat of junior Emma Brenna (coxswain), senior Brooke Lavigne (stroke seat), senior captain Alexis Massey, sophomore Mika Carlin, and sophomore Kayleigh Mackenzie (bow) took first place at the Emerson Regatta. The Warriors’ mixed varsity eight boat also earned first-place honors with a team that consisted of freshman Oliver Rotella (coxswain), junior Matt Roscoe (stroke seat), freshman Tristan Smith, junior Emily Mezick, freshman Abby Jones, sophomore Nate Barton, freshman Owen Coutright, sophomore Millie Gardner, and sophomore Maddie Morrisey (bow).
The Emerson Regatta provided an opportunity for the Warriors to be more creative with their teams. Some even had names of themes for their teams with one of Valley’s girls’ boats wearing pink shirts and referring to themselves as the Pink Ladies. Furthermore, while not officially a co-op, Valley features a few rowers who attend Old Saybrook in junior Lauren Lee and freshman Owen Courtright. While Lee and Courtright couldn’t participate in the state qualifying meets, they were allowed to compete with the Warriors at the Emerson Regatta. Overall, Coach Malinovsky said that the team felt proud of its performance and was happy to cap off the season on a positive note.
“We put together a lot of combinations that we hadn’t done before. I let the kids decide. If there was a boat they wanted to do, if there was a combination they wanted to try, we put it together and raced with it,” said Malinovksy. “We did really well. They enjoyed that. Everyone was pulling for everyone else. We ended on a high note.”
In high school crew, regardless if you are a freshman or a senior, you are considered a novice during your first year of rowing. After that first year, you no longer have the novice title. Featuring 18 novices this season, Coach Malinovsky said it was key for the experienced athletes to help the newer rowers learn the sport. Those rowers were guided by Kirla and Massey, who served as the Warriors’ captains. Kirla and Massey were both in the program for four years and will continue rowing in college. Malinovsky says that the leadership of her captains was crucial and that she expects each them to succeed at the collegiate level.
Coach Malinovksy felt that the willingness of Valley’s experienced rowers to help out the novices is what made the Warriors successful this year. The veterans were willing to pass on their knowledge and change up the boats to make sure that the experience was leveled out evenly. As the experienced rowers continued working with the novices, Malinovsky saw the Warriors find their stride.
“When you’re in a boat, you have to work in pairs. You have to work in unison. If they’re a novice and they’re just learning, if they can’t figure it out, it’s not going to work,” Malinovsky said. “These guys worked with their novices, got them in sync, helped them figure out what they were doing wrong. Information that was passed on to them, they’re passing it on to the newer rowers. It’s what makes a boat work.”
Coach Malinovsky said that Valley’s numbers took a bit of a hit this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she will always have fond memories of her first season as the Warriors’ head coach. Malinovsky said that she will remember this year’s team for sticking through the hard times and using their passion for crew to navigate through any murky waters.
“The pandemic really decimated the team. These guys hung in there. They took this sport to heart. It’s something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives,” said Malinovsky. “They really enjoy what they do, and it comes through. They shared that love of the sport with me and supported me.”
The athletes in the Valley Regional crew program for the 2022 campaign were senior captains Zach Kirla and Alexis Massey; seniors Brooke Lavigne, Ian Mackenzie, Michael Mariano and Saagar Patel; juniors Quentin Baron, Erin Brennan, Sam Brookhart-Bardelli, Emma Brown, Elissa Hill, Lauren Lee, Jack LeMark, Emily Mezick, and Matthew Roscoe; sophomores Nate Barton, Maeve Brashears, Mika Carlin, Chloe Clark, Audrey Counter, Millie Gardner, Paul Knudsun, Kayleigh Mackenzie, Madeline Morrisey, and Avery Sacks; and freshmen Owen Courtright, Chloe Donahue, Savannah Hanley, Abby Jones, Jake Marmelstein, Oliver Rotella, Isabel Schmelzer, Tristan Smith, and Race Ward.