Orlando Area Rowing Society sending nine boats to Nationals

After facing off against 53 of the top teams from across the Southeast, Orlando Area Rowing Society is sending nine boats to USRowing’s Youth National Championships.

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The Windermere-based Orlando Area Rowing Society qualified a whopping nine of its boats for USRowing’s Youth National Championships in Sarasota, which begins Thursday, June 6.

“We’ve had a tremendous season … led by a staff of coaches that is wonderful and has definitely put in the time and energy into this great group of kids,” OARS Director of Rowing Kirsten Anderson said. “This group of rowers is special because they are such a family that really support (one another). Their commitment to the sport has been unwavering all year. We’re one of the few sports where you’re practicing pretty much from August to June. And they have never wavered with their commitment. … They just bring this special level of energy and enthusiasm. It’s hard to not do well with such great kids.”

To qualify for nationals, a boat needs to finish in the top four of their event at a regional regatta, and that’s exactly what the nine OARS boats did against the region’s 53 top teams across various categories and age groups at the Southeast Youth Championships in May. OARS’ Men’s Youth 4+ boat won the regional crown, and five other boats finished second. 

Although qualifying nine boats for nationals is a major accomplishment for any team, over the past few years, OARS’ boats having success at the regional regatta has been the expectation.

“I would say we are — because we’ve been able to put together the right conditions of having the right athletes and the right coaching staff all kind of come together — one of the more dominant programs in the Southeast,” Anderson said. “We have been able to make it sort of an expectation that, of course, we’re going to take a few boats to nationals every year, but to be taking nine is a pretty big deal.”

Four years in the making

One of the biggest reasons for OARS’ 2024 success is the long hours put in by the older members of the program, who have been building toward this moment for years.

“One boat in particular to keep an eye on at nationals would be our Men’s Youth 4+ team, which won regionals by a significant amount,” Anderson said. “They are some of our more experienced athletes, and we definitely hope to see them put in some good times at nationals. One (member) of that team, Tyler Murphy, was stroke seat of the US Junior National eight at world championships last year.”

Murphy, who won gold with the Men’s Youth 4+ boat and bronze with the Men’s Youth 8+ boat, is one of those key cogs that has helped move the OARS program forward. 

“This was a pretty important season for us because our head coach (Nicholas Hall) got here four years ago, meaning this was the first class that he coached from freshman to senior year,” Murphy said. “ This was a pretty big senior class too … something like 13 guys alone. So, we knew this season had to be important, so we could send those guys off right and we brought the energy straight from the fall and started setting all sorts of team records.”

Although Murphy will point to this season’s success being about the graduating senior class, it’s him, as a rising senior, who has made a major impact on the program. 

“Tyler is a kid who is the perfect example of just putting your nose down and grinding as hard as you possibly can all the time,” Anderson said. “He has all the intangibles that you could ask for, and he just captures ... our three big principles outside of practice — like getting sleep, eating correctly and doing some low, steady state work on your own. Tyler has listened and done all the things we’ve told him, and the payoff has been just tremendous. So it’s exciting to see kids like him and the guys in that boat win regionals and set themselves up to do well on the national stage.”

Murphy can see his regional championship-winning four-boat making a deep run at nationals. 

“You can’t just look at the times on the spreadsheet and say, ‘OK, we’re going to do this,’ but I think we’re going to do pretty well at nationals,” Murphy said. “This boat, we have … just this kind of the connection that makes me feel like this is going to be a pretty good outing for us. If everything goes to plan, I think we’re going to end up in the A final — or the top eight in the country. … I don’t know if this four is going to earn a medal spot, but I think just getting to that top eight is a testament to the coaches, who’ve done a great job over the past four years here. Ultimately, I think it’ll come down to how we start, if we have a great two first races, we could end up in the A final, which is a pretty massive achievement.”

Passing of the oar

Like Murphy, two veteran OARS rowers have high hopes for their opportunity at nationals; Isabella Romain — a Gonzaga rowing signee — and Patricia Menendez — a Tennessee signee. The two graduating seniors were key parts of the OARS Women’s Youth 4+ boat that finished second at the regional regatta.

“Both of those girls, Patricia and Isabella, are going to row in college as scholarship recipients — which is kind of a big deal — have been a huge part of OARS for years,” Anderson said. “They’ve meant so much to the program and have been rowing since middle school, so it’s pretty fun to see them qualify for nationals and to be representing OARS for the final time at the biggest stage.”

Despite Romain and Menendez’s focus being set on doing their best at nationals, given the pair’s long history with the program, their final youth regatta with OARS comes with a flood of emotions. 

“I’ve been rowing at OARS since the sixth grade, so I’ve kind of grown up in this atmosphere, and I feel like it helped shape me into the person I am today,” Romain said. “I’ve met some of my best friends here — people that I know I’ll stay in contact with for a lifetime. But it’s been more than that though. I’ve learned lessons like emphasizing the importance of hard work and that nothing in life is given to you; your seat is earned, not given. … I know that I can take these lessons and experiences into the real world and be better for it.” 

That kind of experience is exactly why OARS seniors like Romain and Menendez make sure to prepare the next generation of rowers by mentoring them for the moment the baton, or rather the oar, is passed on to them. 

“As a coxswain, I’m already put into a leadership position, so taking on a sort of mentorship role with the younger girls on the team was something I really wanted to do,” Menendez said. 

The veteran rowers said they’re eager to give back to the next generation because they see their talent.

“We see a ton of potential and dedication in this new group of girls that I didn’t really see while coming up,” Menendez said. “My freshman year, there were a lot of girls (who) started dropping off quickly. But these girls, they are very hard-working, they’re very determined to do well and get fast. … It’s just easy to see how much they want to do well and their desire to get better. This type of mentality is just setting the stage for what they’re going to be able to accomplish in the next few years. I am really excited to see how they do because these freshmen and sophomores are picking up speed really quickly and it’s exciting to see.”

Before seeing what the next group of OARS rowers can do, Romain, Menendez and the rest of the OARS rowers are embracing the chance to make their own marks at Nationals. 

To learn more about OARS, visit oarsrowing.com.



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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