SARASOTA -- Sarasota Crew put itself in prime position to to claim its fourth consecutive state championship after Saturday's action at the 2014 Florida Scholastic Rowing Association Sculling Championships at Nathan Benderson Park.
The crew leads area hopefuls following the first day of the two-day meet by securing 13 finals berths and moving an additional four into the semifinal round for the girls and boys varsity single sculls events following the early stages of 17 events Saturday. The finals are set for Sunday.
"We focus on the larger boats," Sarasota Crew coach Casey Galvanek said. "So right off the bat, we're going to have more in the finals or semifinals. Of course, we're number one seeds in some of the events. So (Sunday's) finals should be pretty exciting."
The crew also has a finalist in the girls varsity quads, which occurs Sunday. That event was the only one that didn't have any qualifying heats Saturday.
There are 31 clubs and schools competing this weekend at Benderson, and Galvanek said there's plenty of parity.
In the past, there were only a couple teams from Florida that would compete at nationals, he said.
That has changed as rowing gains more and more traction among youth athletes across the state, including Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"We're starting to see a lot of Southeast and Florida speed at the top of nationals," Galvanek said. "It used to be one a year in any event. ... It's just been this process. And now to look at the local speed (in) Florida, there's really going to be some speed and a lot of people that will be in the (national) finals if all the kids stay healthy."
Competing from Manatee County were rowers from Manatee and Palmetto high schools. The lone qualifier for the semifinals came from Palmetto's Hannah McCollough.
The junior didn't get off to the best start in her event, the girls varsity singles.
"Hannah hit two buoys, but one was at the very end," Palmetto/Manatee coach Trish Jackson said. "So I think if she hadn't had that horrible at the beginning, I think she would have probably come in and might have closed in on second a lot."
But despite the bad start, McCollough rebounded by winning her heat in the repechages with a time of 6 minutes, 58.60 seconds.
Manatee senior Jen Zebracki and Palmetto senior Todd Chastain also competed in the singles, while Palmetto's Crystal Chouinard and Chelsie Gullett competed for the first time as partners in the girls junior doubles.
Zebracki took third in her qualifying heat, but did not advance from the repechages to get to the semifinals. Chastain was fifth in his heat and also didn't make it to the semifinals from the repechages. Chouinard and Gullett did not advance from their heat.
"We are focusing more on the scholastic boats," Jackson said. "How many scholastic boats are we competing against and where are we placing with the scholastic boats? Because our ultimate goal is to go to the Scholastic Nationals. So even though they might have come in third or fourth in their event, how many scholastic boats were in that event? I won't know exactly how we fare out until (Sunday) when the finals hit as far as our times are in comparison to the rest of the scholastics."
Sunday's action is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., and the last final is slated for a 1:04 p.m. start.
The regatta is the first of two state championship races in three weeks at Benderson. The next one is the FSRA Sweep Championships slated for April 26-27.