STATE CHAMPS! Kearny lightweight four wins Garden State Scholastic title

The Kearny girls’ lightweight four finished just six-tenths of a second away from winning the Garden State Scholastic Championships a year ago, falling to Absegami.

In the first race of the 2017 season, the lightweight four (with a new addition due to graduation) competed and lost once again to Absegami, this time by two seconds.

“We were rowing in a 15-year-old boat,” said veteran Kearny girls’ crew coach David Paszkiewicz. “We were able to buy a new shell with money we raised.”

So when the Kardinals went to the Garden State Scholastic Championships again on the Cooper River in Pennsauken in southern New Jersey last week, they were determined to reverse the trend.

“Honestly, every year, we have the motivation to do better than last year,” said senior captain Janice Rachumi. “We worked very hard to get back. In the back of our minds, we thought of .06 of a second and we could have won.”

The Kearny lightweight four is an interesting bunch of extremely intelligent young ladies. Rachumi is headed to Rutgers in the fall to begin pre-veterinarian work in animal sciences. Co-captain Isabella Martins is beyond brilliant, owning a 4.6 grade point average and a score of 1390 on her Scholastic Aptitude Tests. She’s also headed to Rutgers to study business. Fellow senior Lara Esteves is going to St. Peter’s University to study biology and eventually on to dental school to become a dentist.

Junior Ashley Richard, a former soccer player, and sophomore coxswain Rebekah Paszkiewicz, the coach’s daughter, round out the boat.

They all have different reasons why they joined the Kearny crew team.

“It’s impacted my life,” Rachumi said. “It’s taught me patience and given me confidence. I remember (assistant coach Danny) McShane coming to my middle school to talk about crew. I had no idea about it. One of my friends had a brother did it and she said that he loved it. So I gave it a try.”

Martins was never a rower before high school.

“I had friends of mine who said that I should check it out,” Martins said. “I thought it was a cool idea. That lasted about a week.”

That’s when Martins took to the Passaic River for the first time.

“The first time I was on the water, I was afraid and started crying,” Martins said. “The first time I did a 2K (about 3.2 miles), I had no idea what was happening. I was just in a lot of pain and I was confused. I eventually learned to thrive through the pain and use it as motivation.”

Esteves tried crew because “it was something different.”
“It was out of my comfort zone,” Esteves said. “My freshman year, I was pretty bad. I had others on the team call me a ‘Barbie’ because I wore makeup. But I decided to stick around. I might still be a Barbie, but now it has a different meaning.”

Richard used to play club soccer in New York and on the way to the games and practices, she noticed the crew team on the river.

“I played soccer my whole life,” Richard said. “I’d see them rowing and said, ‘Wow, I want to do that.’ I joined the team.”

Soccer was in the rearview mirror.

“I never played soccer again,” Richard said. “I love crew so much. It’s all about the friendships, the relationships that we made. There’s this whole bonding thing in this boat. We’re all like sisters and I like having that relationship. It’s going to last for the rest of our lives.”

Paszkiewicz really had no choice but to get involved, especially having a father as head coach and brother, David, Jr., as an assistant.

“There wasn’t a ton of pressure, but I could tell that he wanted me to join,” the younger Paszkiewicz said. “I think he would have been disappointed if I didn’t do it. Growing up, I always came to races and come to the boathouse. It all seemed interesting to me.”

So the group put their new boat, called the American Patriot, into the Cooper River last week with rival Absegami waiting.

This time, there was no contest. Kearny won by almost three seconds. They were state champions.

“It was a relief,” Esteves said. “After three years of trying, we finally beat them. We did it.”

To take first is a great achievement,” Martins said. “It puts us in the best position to win nationals.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Richard said. “As soon as we crossed the finish line, we were crying and splashing water on each other. We were so happy. It was the greatest feeling.”

Coach Paszkiewicz is proud of their achievements.

“This is one of the best groups I’ve ever had,” Paszkiewicz said. “They have their sights on the nationals in three weeks on the same course. It’s looking good for them.”

Before they head to the Cooper River again, they will compete in the Passaic River Sprints this weekend here on the Passaic, followed by the prestigious Stotesbury Cup Regatta, the world’s largest school race, then the nationals.

“We worked hard,” Rachumi said. “We have a chance to get first in the nationals. That’s our motivation.”

“We can never be satisfied and never be content with a victory,” Martins said. “We have to keep working.”

Paszkiewicz knows how hard this group has worked.

“We raced well in the summer, then four days a week in the fall,” Paszkiewicz said. “We then work six days a week in the spring. A lot of those days, it was windy and stormy, but we worked hard.”

Not to mention the cold temperatures. It’s never easy.

But Esteves knows her importance.

“I think what we’ve done has opened doors for others,” Esteves said. “It will encourage more girls to have the same dreams that we had.”

The Kearny girls’ novice four also won its championship last weekend. The team of junior Sabrina Vasquez, freshman Winnie Lu, freshman Gissela Galarza, freshman Layla Quinless and sophomore Kate Grajales won their race as well.

The boys’ junior varsity eight finished second in their race, also earning a medal.

“From the girls’ side, it was our best state performance ever,” Paszkiewicz said. “In addition to the two winning boats, we had two more qualify for the nationals.”

All in all, it was a great day for the Kearny crew team.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”