Merion >> It was June, 2011 when members of the Merion Mercy Academy crew team received their first opportunity to compete in what is considered the crown jewel of their sport – The Henley Women’s Regatta in England.
While besting St. Edward’s of Oxford in the first round of what would become a memorable run to winning the prestigious Groton Cup for girls scholastic four, their most valuable experience came during that race.
It was there they forged a relationship that would define the true meaning of the term student-athlete. The girls from St. Edward’s cheered the Golden Bears all the way through the finals.
The following year, Merion Mercy invited St. Edwards to Philadelphia to compete in the Head of the Schuylkill and experience a day in the life of an American school girl. The young ladies from St. Edwards stayed with host families, attended school at Merion Mercy and attended the “Harvest Moon” dance.
St. Edwards reciprocated the following March, inviting Merion to compete in the National Schools Head of Race Regatta. While there, Merion got to attend lessons and live a day in the life of an student in England.
“Truly it’s not always about the boat race,” said Merion Mercy coach Michael Brown, who helped establish the MMA crew program in 2005. “Friendships were forged at all levels and we’ve been going to and fro ever since – hopefully we’ll again be hosting Teddies this fall. This relationship has become quite magical with students remaining friends for years and visiting each other during their university years – I have no doubt and with all due respect that both the Merion Mercy and St. Edward’s student-athletes learn more from spending ‘a day in the life’ than they ever would in school.”
Morgan Lamb, who graduated from Merion Mercy in June and will be rowing at Boston College in the fall, said, “Our relationship with St. Edwards has made exciting and memorable experiences that has made my Merion rowing career more fun and fulfilling. I have been to St. Edwards three times with Merion to compete in the Schools’ Head Regatta and this spring we had the opportunity to travel to Henley to compete in the Women’s Henley Regatta, where we also interacted with our friends from St. Edwards. It is one thing to have a relationship with a school in the United States, but I think we have learned so much from having a relationship with rowers from England.
“From the first time we met them, although they first came across as very proper and spoke with funny accents, we realized that they are really no different from us. We were all teenagers that were excited to make new foreign friends and excited about rowing. Because of these similarities, it was easy for us to forge strong friendships.
“At Henley we obviously didn’t have the same support that we have on the Schuylkill. This made it even more exciting as we came into the final part of our race hearing boys cheering for us in British accents. Immediately we knew these cheers were from our friends from St. Edwards who had come to Henley just to support us. This just reaffirmed the strong friendships we had created and we know that beyond rowing, we have friends in England we can visit when abroad.”
Merion Mercy rising senior Emma Braun said, “I feel very special to have been part of this trip, especially since Merion had not been to Henley since 2012. Throughout this trip, my boat mates really showed me what hard work can do. The seniors were very poised and helped to keep everyone calm. Forging a relationship with St Edwards prior to this trip definitely made it very special. We originally met the boys back in September and have kept up the friendship with them ever since. It was very sweet that they came to see us after our race.”
Of course that experience would not have been possible without the Golden Bears success on the water. Any school can petition to compete in the Henley but Merion Mercy’s criteria is a bit tougher. In order to attend, they have to be the Best in the USA – which means win at City Championship, Stotesbury Regatta and Scholastic National.
This year’s crew – which won all three aforementioned events – comprised of stroke seat, Morgan Lamb (’17); 3 seat, Emma Braun (’18)’ 2 seat, Catherine Schrieber (’17); bow seat, Jeannie McGill (’17) coxswain Cece Wendel (’19) and alternate Caroline Hecht (’18).
“Competing at Henley had always been a dream of mine when I started rowing freshman year,” said outgoing senior Catherine Schreiber, who will be rowing at Clemson University. “As the years went on I crossed it off my list as a possibility. After winning the Stotesbury Cup Regatta the spring of my senior year, the opportunity arose to compete in the prestigious regatta came as a surprise to me. Competing at Henley was a fulfilling way to end my rowing career at Merion Mercy.”
Merion Mercy rising junior Cece Wendall, the coxswain of this year’s group that traveled to Henley said, “The seniors were very valuable in preparing me for this unforgettable experience. Every minute that I spent in that boat with them shaped me into a better coxswain and team member. As a younger coxswain, being in a boat with these four highly motivated teammates left me no choice but to rise to the challenge. The most challenging part was finding how I fit into the boat to make it go faster. Receiving feedback on what I could do for them to move the boat faster was invaluable for me. Their grit continues to motivate me. I hope this season I can pass on that same determination to win to the rest of my teammates.”
Merion’s success can be attributed directly to coach Michael Brown, combined with the support of the administration, parents, alumnae and the current athletes.
Brown said, “To earn 11 Scholastic National Championship medals, 12 Stotesbury medals and 27 City Championships medals since the first strokes were taken in 2005 can all be attributed to the culture created on Day 1 when our first rowers stitched ‘MT 17:20’ onto their uni’s (From Matthew 17:20, ‘If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed…..’). There’s not a kid that has come through this program that doesn’t know whose shoulders she stands upon nor looks at her shoes when someone asks who she rows for. They define themselves as, “Show me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.
“Our success is due to the students, coaches, administrators and parents’ total commitment to make the boat go faster – everything the students, coaches, administration and parents do is to make the boat go faster – we all bring something into the boat, into the same boat, with a willingness to subordinate any personal recognition to that of the team.
“It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone but when you get it, it’s magical. The kids you’re writing about are getting the press and it’s well-deserved, yet we all know that there were more than five hearts pumping in the boat at Henley in June – a piece of everyone in this program goes down the race course. Parent coordinators handling registrations, swim tests, travel arrangements and communiques; Tent Dads, the first on site on race day and the last to leave; trailer drivers and gas can handlers; coaches Tony Mattson, Tom French and Fred Duling all donating their time and expertise; and Sister Barb, riding her bike to regattas – should we be fortunate to win, she’s first on the dock, awarding the medals; and if we’re on the losing end, she’s the first with a comforting word.”
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