August 6-21, 2022
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by: Bill Potrecz, BP Sports Niagara

Team Ontario dominates day one of rowing finals at the 28th edition of the Canada Games

Team Ontario dominated the first day of rowing finals Saturday at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games.

Team O took home six gold medals out of seven medal races held at the Royal Canadian Henley Rowing Course, including the final race of the day: the men’s eight coxed by Riley Pisek.

Pisek, a 20-year-old from the St. Catharines Rowing Club who is also affiliated with Brock University, guided her crew to a thrilling finish over Team Alberta by less than one second.

“It was just so exciting,” Pisek said. “We didn’t know how it was going to end up until the last 15 strokes at the finish line.”

Team Ontario won in a time of 6:00.21 while Team Alberta crossed at 6:00.63.

With a race so close, Pisek said it was imperative she keep track of the opposition.

“(I was) very aware,” she said. “It’s a very big part of your job.”

The other members of the gold medal crew are Niko Schramm, Kai Bartel, Shane Keagan, Adrian Breen, Payton Gauthier, Michael Ciepiela, Preston Darling and Aidan Hembruff.

Bartel and Keagan earlier Saturday placed fourth in the men’s pair while earlier this summer Schramm, Bartel and Pisek were part of a contingent of St. Catharines Rowing Club members who also competed in the Thames Cup at the Royal Henley Regatta in England.

“Everyone is so dedicated and everyone is coming off so many highs this summer,”  Pisek said. “It’s such a good way to wrap it up. We all know each other from our school season and other competitive areas.”

Pisek admitted gold was on the crew’s mind heading into the race.

“We all hoped to. We were very confident in ourselves,” she said.

The first race of the day, the women’s single, went to Vineland’s Hailey Mercuri, a 21-year-old sculler currently rowing with the University of Iowa. Prior to the Games, the Grimsby Secondary School graduate participated on the national team for the U19 World Championships, and again for the U23 Worlds. At UIowa, she was a member of two victorious varsity eight boats during the 2021-22 season. At the recent under-23 worlds, she was a member of the eight that placed seventh.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” she said. “It’s nice to row against people I know. Claire (Ellison from Nova Scotia) was on the bow seat of the U23 eight so some good times this week.

“I’m excited and happy I won and ready for the four and the eight tomorrow.”

Stephen Harris, Lucas Maroney, Owen Bartel and Alessio Perco teamed up for gold in the men’s quad.

“We got caught back at bit at the start and then we just kept pushing through and made progress and then caught up,” said Bartel, an 18-year-old rower from St. Catharines coming fresh off a first-place finish in both the single sculls and the double sculls at this year’s Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association (CSSRA) regatta this June. “Lucas and I have been training since the end of school for the junior national team and Steve has been training for the U23 and Alessio did the Canada-Mex and we put in the work to get there and we joined up together.”

Bartel said the crew came together quickly.

“We all did fairly well in our small boats and we meshed pretty fast. Every day we would see major improvements.” 

Maya Meschkuleit and Stella Bittman teamed up for gold in the women’s pair.

Bittman, 16, rows with the Notre Dame Rowing Club. The Notre Dame student was most recently named to the U19 national women’s quad roster by Rowing Canada. She enters the Games after winning first in the women’s junior double at the Stotesbury Cup, as well as first in the senior women’s double at the CSSRA regatta.  Earlier in the year, at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships, Bittman was first in the U17 category. At the 2022 under-19 worlds, she placed 11th in the quad.

“It’s a big deal for me in terms of development of skill and how long my training has come,” she said. “This was my first sweeping 2k that I’ve done. I was predominantly a sculler before.”

Bittman and Meschkuleit worked well together.

“I think we’re both really gritty and willing to get down and do whatever we have to do to win,” Bittman said. “Maya is a lot more experienced than me so she does a really good job in terms of keeping my technique where it needs to be with those small reminders. We work well in terms of power and we can push off of each other. I want to make Maya make sure she doesn’t feel like she’s not pulling me down the course.”

The women’s quad of Anna Pamenter, Fiona Elliott, Madeson Scott and Cait Whittard also earned gold.

Whittard is a 17-year-old Denis Morris graduate from the St. Catharines Rowing Club who has accepted a D1 scholarship to the University of Tennessee for this fall.

“It means a lot,” Whittard said. “I’ve trained with Madeson all this year and since last year. We’re great friends and we’ve been training together for a while so it’s really nice to enjoy this together, especially being competitors throughout the year.”

Whittard said the difference between gold and silver can be miniscule.

“We just came in and rowed really hard. The three of us were together at the under-19 worlds and there was a lot of stress there so we wanted to try and enjoy the experience and every moment and see what we could do. We know we’re all super fit. It’s a country with a lot of good rowers so it was who would dig deep and get across the finish line first.”

The rowing will conclude Sunday with races scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon.

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