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Saugatuck Masters National Field

The Saugatuck Rowing Club won its sixth national Masters title in seven years last month in Camden, N.J. But the work that led to another championship took place in Westport, where Masters coach Nicoleta Mantescu challenged her rowers to reach their potential and then devised a lineup that maximized the team's strengths.

The result was 19 championships, 631 points, and a convincing victory over runner-up Potomac Boat Club. "We get better and better,'' Mantescu says.

Saugatuck took 85 rowers to the nationals, and competed in 104 events. Besides training, the other key is a lineup that brings out the best in each rower. Mantescu said she and her staff needed six hours to piece the team together. "We look at the whole picture,'' Nicoleta says. "It' like a big jigsaw puzzle. You have to get the pieces to fit."

There were several highlights to Saugatuck's lineup. John Paul Vontell, 14, the youngest competitor in the field, won gold with his mother, Bonnie, in the mother-son event. Paul Green, 87 years old, also won gold in the single. Jane Casey, who started in a Learn to Row program a year ago, captured two gold medals. The team won 11 silver medals and 10 bronze medals.

Mantescu said she started working toward national titles when the team, with very little planning, finished second in its first Masters nationals appearance at Sacramento in 2003. "That's when I started thinking we can improve and start winning,'' Nicoleta says. She says that the club members know her expectations and that the Masters title is one of the goals of the coaching staff. "I think they got the message by now,'' Nicoleta says. "If they didn't, they have a problem."

The success of the team has helped bring in additional Masters rowers. Mantescu likes having them. Now that Saugatuck's Masters have reached the top of the rowing mountain, teams are shooting for them. "Competition is good,'' Nicoleta says. "It keeps us honest."

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