FAIRFAX STATION, Va. (WUSA) -- Tuesday's practice started with a simple command: "Attention, row!" followed by a unified, "Hah!" Milliseconds later, oars splashed and the first eight girls of James Madison's crew team sent their 210 pound boat cutting gracefully through the quiet water of the Occoquan River.
These eight Warhawks, nine including their coxswain, are the top rowers on a coed team of 72 students. They have been undefeated at home regattas for two years and claimed back-to-back state titles. Now, they are training for their last regatta of the season, the US Rowing Youth National Championship.
"The girls work really hard ... at the end of the day we've got some of the grittiest, strongest character type of rower[s] with a lot of heart," said head coach Paul Allbright.
After this weekend's regatta, three of the Warhawks, sisters Georgia and Carolina Ratcliff and Caroline Williams, will head to Connecticut for the US Junior National Team selection camp. Only the top 30 high school rowers in the country are invited to the camp, so three girls from one team receiving invitations is a direct reflection of its athletes' talent and dedication.
"It's very much still fresh in their minds how quickly we were able to build up and get here to this point and ... that if you don't keep it sustained, it'll go away quicker that it came," said Allbright.
Junior Georgia Ratcliff, who is being recruited by a number of Division I colleges, raced in the World Rowing Junior Championships in Great Britain last year.
"I believe that every stroke, every day on the water we always are giving it our all ... I know that the girls going with me to selection definitely have what it takes in terms of work ethic and I'm excited for them to prove that against the fastest girls," said Georgia.
Two-a-days, grueling workouts and exhausting time trials lie ahead for Williams and the Ratcliff sisters during the two-week selection process, which starts on June 17. Ultimately, 16 girls from camp will make the team and go on to represent the United States at the 2012 World Rowing Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
If you ask any of the three Madison girls heading to Connecticut, 'Are you worried about competing against your own teammates?' the answer is "No." The girls are happy to have each other's support.
"There's just a sense of unity and team spirit," said Carolina. "You're doing this together. All eight oars click together, all eight oars finish together, all eight oars release together, so it's really rewarding in the end ... it's a crew family for me."
Video by Allison Frick and Malcolm Johnson
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