Surging Newport Aquatic Center girls aim for big finish

The Newport Aquatic Center varsity eight lead their team on a practice on Wednesday in the Newport Bay.
The Newport Aquatic Center varsity eight, including coxswain Hannah Hykes, right, from Corona del Mar, and CdM’s Millie Clark, in the stroke seat, lead their team on a practice on Wednesday in the Newport Bay.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Both Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor high schools have their graduations on June 8.

A handful of senior girls will be on the other side of the country, competing for Newport Aquatic Center at the USRowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla.

“I was talking about it today,” said Newport Harbor senior Vivi Spitz, who is bound for Cal. “I was getting my diploma cover, because the diplomas haven’t come in the mail. I was telling this teacher in the office while I was getting it, and she started crying because I wasn’t going to be at graduation. She was tearing up because she was so sad that we were going to miss our own graduation. But I went to my sisters’ graduation, so I know the whole she-bang.”


Speaking of bangs, the class of 2023 wants to go out with one, continuing the good energy right now within the Newport Aquatic Center women’s varsity rowing program.

Corona del Mar's Kat Odeen, in front, a senior with the Newport Aquatic Center rowing program, practices on Wednesday.
Corona del Mar’s Kat Odeen, in front, a senior with the Newport Aquatic Center rowing program, practices on Wednesday in the Newport Bay.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The club had nearly a dozen reasons to celebrate last week, as it honored its 11 senior girls — each of whom is going off to row in college.

But first things first. Newport Aquatic Center is bringing a program-record four women’s boats to the Junior Nationals competition. The top one — the varsity eight — is trying to medal for the first time in program history. The previous best was a fifth-place finish last year.

CdM senior Hannah Hykes, bound for the University of Michigan, has been a coxswain with the program for five years, including three with the varsity eight.

“I definitely feel like we have a shot at medaling, and I’ve never felt like I’ve been in that position before in the sport,” Hykes said. “Just to know that we’re going to be competitive for a medaling position is cool.”

The varsity eight also includes Spitz, Harvard-bound CdM senior Millie Clark and five juniors. Three are locals from Huntington Beach High: Sydney Harris, Charlotte Dozier and Julia Channel.

Newport Aquatic Center celebrated its 11 women's crew members headed to row in college in a ceremony on May 23.
(Courtesy of Amy Hykes)

The extremely talented senior class also features CdM seniors Kat Odeen and Ruby Srinivasan, bound for Clemson and Harvard, respectively, on the JV eight boat. That boat, which also features another local in USC-bound Newport Harbor senior Michaela Banta, is undefeated this season.

Newport Aquatic Center Coach Weston Cole, a former Orange Coast College rowing standout, said the JV eight won the San Diego Crew Classic and the Southwest Regionals titles this year, both for the first time in program history.

That really highlighted the program’s current depth, as did the fact that NAC won the team trophy at Southwest Regionals for the first time since 2003 — before any of the current student-athletes were born.

“I think it’s really cool to be part of a great group like that, of really dedicated and determined girls,” Hykes said. “The fact that all of us are going to college for rowing shows that we’re all very passionate about the sport, and to be able to share that passion and that dedication has been a really cool experience.”

The other NAC seniors include Lauren Brown of Canyon High, bound for UCLA; Breezy Kash of Costa Mesa High, bound for UC San Diego; Sophie Pense of Santa Margarita, headed for the University of Kansas; Newport Harbor senior Sarah Porter, bound for Fordham; and Charlie Shaughnessy of Tesoro, headed to the University of Miami.

CdM's Ruby Srinivasan, with the Newport Aquatic Center high school girls' rowing program, practices on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Odeen said she has seen a change in her half-decade in the program.

“Five years ago, NAC varsity wasn’t really a team to be reckoned with, but the progress from back then to now is crazy,” Odeen said. “There’s been a revolutionary shift of work ethic and energy … and the standard has been raised.”

Srinivasan nodded.

“This is one of the best feeling boats I’ve ever been in, in terms of rhythm and how well we row together,” Srinivasan said. “We know we have to go out there and execute. It’s not going to be handed to us, but we feel really good about it. We want to continue making history for this season.”

The team had a training trip at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista over the long Memorial Day weekend. Cole is hoping that pays dividends during the action next week.

Coxswain Hannah Hykes, left, and Millie Clark, in the stroke seat, lead their team on a practice on Wednesday in Newport Bay.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I think they definitely found their next gear of speed,” he said. “I definitely think we have a chance to medal, and if they execute really well, we could potentially win.”

The Newport Aquatic Center girls leave Monday morning for Florida. The Junior Nationals have traditionally been dominated by East Coast teams, while NAC’s main West Coast rival of Marin Rowing Assn. is also typically a factor.

But as the girls prepare for their final regatta of the season, they do so confidently.

And those from the Back Bay aren’t really worried about missing their respective high school graduations.

Clark put it simply.

“I’d rather win a national championship than walk the stage,” she said.