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Tyler Clark, Staff Writer

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For the fourth time in its history, an Upper St. Clair Crew team qualified for the Scholastic Rowing Association of America’s national event, held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on May 22 & 23. The Men’s Junior 4+ division qualifying boat, crewed by freshman Connor Halloran, sophomore Tyler Clark, and juniors AJ Rai, Brendan Beottger, and Steven Wagner, got as far as the semi-finals, which is the deepest any USC boat has gone in the competition.

As an additional honor, AJ Rai will be inducted as the Captain of 2015-16 Upper St. Clair Crew Team, after the team’s banquet, as a successor to John Benhart.

When competing at the local level, Rai’s boat proved dominant in all facets and race-types, including head races and heat races in the spring season. They did not always enjoy the luxuries of their successes, however, as Wagner describes their initial failures as a “really hard thing to conquer. We had so many problems that initially compromised our ability to even make it to the finals for the Lake Dillon Invitational.”

Despite the poor beginning of the season, the boat never stopped improving, dropping their Lake Dillon Invitational time by almost 60 seconds, an improvement unheard of in Upper St. Clair Crew Team history. This improvement lead the boat to win gold at Pittsburgh Scholastic Sprints, as well as the Mercyhurst Invitational Regatta, and ultimately led to their qualification for Nationals with the fastest time in USC History.

When they reached Nationals, AJ Rai, the undisputed motivational leader of the boat had this to say: “We did not work this hard, sacrifice this much, and come so far, to only make an appearance at Nationals. That’s not what our boat is about, and that’s not what this team is about. If we made it this far, you better believe we made it here to win.”

The high confidence lead them to come in second in the Qualifying Quarter-Final round and advance to the Semi-Finals.

Connor Halloran stated, “We had stayed up all night watching the film and preparing mentally for tomorrow’s race mentally because, for us, it’s all about the mindset with which we compose ourselves during the race. Get ahead early and stay ahead. That’s how we compete. That’s how we win.”

Unfortunately for the boat, their efforts were not rewarded with the tangible success of advancing to the Finals, but every boat member was satisfied with the way they performed, including Brendan Boettger who said, “That was the best this boat has ever rowed against the best competition in the country, and I am so happy to have made it this far.”

RJ Pisani, the Head Coach of the USC Crew Team, summed up their complete season in a couple of sentences: “They did everything I asked them to do and they were flying through the water. We will be back again next year.”

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