Imagine having a high-school sports program at which a state championship isn’t just the goal — it’s the standard.
That’s the case for Winter Park High School’s crew program, as the men’s and women’s teams together captured the program’s 37th overall points scholastic state championship at the FSRA Sweep Championships on Sunday, April 29, at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.
“It’s always our goal to win a scholastic title,” women’s team head coach Michael Vertullo said. “I’ve been here 19 years. It’s our expectation to win the scholastic, and if we can also pull out the youth trophy, that’s just a bonus.”
The women’s first varsity eight group managed to pull off an impressive first-place finish in the finals, coming out on top over several deep club teams that recruit rowers from several high schools. Winter Park’s ladies took home the women’s first place scholastic points trophy, the women’s first place youth points trophy, and the women’s overall gold medal. It’s the third time Winter Park has taken the women’s overall gold medal in the past four years.
“Last year going in, I thought we should have had it,” Vertullo said. “We got beat in the finals (by Sarasota Crew), so it was nice to get revenge on the team that beat us last year.”
It was a satisfying win for the varsity women’s squad, senior team captain Francesca Raggi said.
“Last year was kind of disappointing, since it was my first silver at states, so this year, one of our goals was to take back the state,” she said. “A lot of the seniors really wanted to get gold again, so I was super happy when we crossed the line first. It just meant a lot — we’d worked since states last year to try and do that again.”
Winter Park’s men’s varsity eight team finished in second place scholastically in points, while the men’s junior eight team finished first overall above scholastic and club teams.
“On the men’s side, we didn’t necessarily have the races that we wanted to have on all the boats, but I think the team is definitely moving in a really good direction,” Winter Park varsity rower Jackson Fuller said. “We look really good going into next year.”
Although Winter Park has a legacy of racking up state championships, it’s still special to see it happen, Vertullo said.
“It just shows the depth of your program, because it’s not just one boat winning,” he said.
Winter Park’s men’s and women’s teams will head to the U.S. Rowing southeast regional this weekend to stay conditioned for the national tournament set for Memorial Day weekend just outside of Camden, New Jersey.
Winter Park now has its sight set on adding to a legacy of national excellence as well. It captured a national championship for the women’s lightweight varsity eight team back in 2015.
Last year, the women’s varsity team captured second place in nationals. It looks to take the top spot this year; five of the eight girls from that team will be returning for another shot.
“We’re trying to just get a little bit faster each day here,” Vertullo said.