Winter Park Crew Prepares for Return to Henley after SRAA Three-peat

Share This:

After two consecutive years representing America in the Henley Royal Regatta as Scholastic Rowing Association of America (SRAA) National Champions, the Winter Park Crew Women’s Varsity 8 is one-upping its own record as the first high school team to achieve both honors for a third straight year.

“In my 28 years coaching, I’ve never seen it done before,” said Winter Park Women’s Team Coach Mike Vertullo of the three-peat victory at the 2024 SRAA Nationals. Held in May on the Cooper River in ​Pennsauken, NJ., the unprecedented championship win was another hallmark in what has become a tradition of excellence for Winter Park Crew, which has amassed 42 state championships in its history and recently welcomed Winter Park alum and former crew team rower Hugh Tompkins as the new men’s team coach. “We’ve been quite fortunate the past several years,” Vertullo said, “to have some really dedicated kids come on the team.”

This year’s Women’s Varsity 8 – made up of seniors Stella Xu (coxswain), Delaney Brinton (co-captain), Reilly Harris (co-captain), and Kennedy Narine; juniors Ava Gormley, Helena Scherr, and Audriana Greene; and sophomores Jill Schnitker and Nadia Davidson – are now preparing to face the world as they head to Henley for the Junior Women’s Eights competition known as The Prince Philip Challenge Trophy.

Winter Park Women’s Team Coach Mike Vertullo credits the focus and dedication of the team for their unprecedented success. Photo courtesy of: A Worthy Photo

Established in 1849, the Henley Royal Regatta is the world’s most prestigious rowing competition with teams ranging from Olympians to amateur-level clubs. Winter Park’s 2022 Women’s Varsity 8 was the first local team to attend since the Winter Park men’s team went to Henley in 2007. The women fought through the qualifying races to beat heavily favored Henley Rowing Club in the semifinal, but fell to St. Catherine’s School, Australia in the final. The 2023 women’s team broke a course record, clocking a time of 7:13 during the opening round of their competition and went on to beat the Australian national champs before falling in their race against Deerfield Academy, U.S.A.

“Each year is getting more competitive,” Vertullo said. “We’re a scholastic team, so we tend to be a little bit younger; other clubs tend to have mostly senior-laden crews.” Aside from their talented peers, the conditions along England’s River Thames also poses challenges that include headwinds and strong currents along the 2,112-meter course. “The water is very difficult, and the course is much longer than our typical 1,500-meter scholastic championship.”

Crew athletes train six days a week during the season while maintaining an average 4.5 GPA. The Women’s Varsity 8 will leave on June 21 with daily training on the River Thames until Henley begins on July 2nd with races scheduled through the 7th. For now, the team continues training locally with one change: a sewage leak and algae bloom closed their usual facility on Casselberry’s Lake Howell, but a backup location was offered by some local fans. “We’re using the (Rollins Rowing Team) dock on Lake Maitland until we leave,” said Vertullo. “Coach Shawn Pistor really came through for us and we’ll be out there six-days a week, four hours a day until we leave.”

Use of the Rollins dock is among many gestures of community support that have helped the team on their journeys to Henley. Travel and housing costs are met through donations and fundraising events organized by Crew Boosters of Winter Park, Inc.: a nonprofit run by women’s and men’s team parents to promote the sport of rowing at Winter Park High School. The Varsity 8 crew all share a house in the town of Henley with two team moms, and an entourage of family and friends cheer them on from the stands. Back home, local fans follow online reports and watch live YouTube broadcasts.

The challenge and prestige of international competition offers opportunities to which every athlete aspires. For Coach Vertullo, experiencing the level of sportsmanship and camaraderie displayed at Henley is among the most rewarding experiences.

“There’s a lot of respect shown after each race; both teams cheer and congratulate each other, the loser walks over and shakes hand of winners. It’s just really cool to see; it’s built into the culture of British rowing.”

Share This:

Have a story idea? Send us a note at Follow our stories on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

If you value local journalism, please support our work by joining The Flock for as little as $7 per month.

Our Sponsors

the32789 Weekly

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Want News in Your Inbox?
the32789 Weekly brings all the Winter Park news you missed straight to your inbox. Sign up for updates every Sunday morning.
Want News in Your Inbox?
the32789 Weekly brings all the Winter Park news you missed straight to your inbox. Sign up for updates every Sunday morning.