Wolf, Smith, Bonner and Meyer Star in Avalon Guards' First Half
By Dave Bontempo
The Avalon Beach Patrol displayed an interesting, intriguing first half of the lifeguard racing season.
Defending South Jerseys champion rower Erich Wolf went on a tear, winning all four of his races, and the patrol unveiled its strongest women’s nucleus in a long time with rowers Danielle Smith and Reilly Bonner, along with swimmer McKensie Meyer. Newcomers on the patrol also injected fresh energy in some less-traditional events.
Wolf was off the charts. The fourth win in his streak was a razor-thin victory over Longport’s Mike McGrath at the Atlantic City Classic, which assembled all 15 local patrols. That could set up a rematch in the Aug. 10 South Jerseys in Longport.
Wolf also won the Cape May County race in Wildwood Crest and posted two victories in the Beschen-Callahans in North Wildwood. Brother Matt teamed with Erich for a Beschen-Callahan victory and partnered with Gary Nagle to finish third in the doubles rescue, helping Avalon nab second as a team at the Atlantic City Classic.
The Wolf brothers forged some personal history at the Beschen-Callahans. For all of their individual victories over the years, it was their first triumph together in an out-of-town race. The departure of Jake Enright, Matt’s partner of five years, created an immediate revolving door for doubles. A rare scheduling feature gave them a chance to team up at this event.
“The normal doubles race might be 14 or 16 minutes,” Erich Wolf says. “For this race, they keep it short, spectator friendly, close to the beach and I think the winning time was about a third of an actual doubles race. There was also enough time between the singles and doubles to do this.”
Wolf says he is on target to be at peak condition for the South Jerseys, but actually looks slightly ahead of last year.
While the Wolf brothers maintained their performance level, the strong female contingent became a pleasant surprise.
Smith and Bonner combined for second in the doubles row at the Longport Women’s Invitational, and Meyer finished a fourth in a pair of early-season races. Avalon finished second as a team in Longport.
“We’re happy to see the success from our girls,” Avalon captain Murray Wolf says. “We haven't had much team strength with the women in past years because we were not fortunate enough to have that many who stayed with us for a long time, but in the last couple of years we have had a lot more women and they have gotten a lot more competitive. They are doing really well. The girls were super for us over in Longport.”
Reilly Bonner and Danielle Smith of the Avalon Beach Patrol.
It was no accident. Meyer swims for Villanova, Bonner is a rower for Temple, and Smith, a teacher in Wilmington, Del., ran track in high school and swam on a club level for Rowan University. Smith is a fifth-year guard. Bonner is in her third campaign and Meyer rows with Bonner for the second straight year.
This is an interesting transformation for Smith. Runners and rowers have different body types and few runners actually perform well in a boat. She has.
“You are using totally different muscles,” says Smith, a former high-school sprinter moving up the strength ladder. “I never rode until I got to the beach patrol in my rookie summer. I have done a lot of weight lifting. I lift all year now and try to maintain a good cardio workout. We don’t have any type of boat back home, but I still do a lot of workouts.”
Smith is a health and physical education teacher, as well as a swimming and softball coach.
“Being in the boat was a challenge and mainly I saw it as something I've never done before,” she says. “I want to master it, to be somebody who can get in the boat and in and out of the water if needed for a rescue. It’s been exciting and fun.”
One thing the teacher has learned is the importance of a quick start. Two people getting in the boat, steadying it quickly, pushing out from shore and avoiding first-wave trouble might be 50 percent of the race, she says.
Smith and Bonner started well in Longport, battled neck-and-neck for the top spot and earned a solid second-place finish. Bonner, a third-year guard from Havertown, Pa., enjoys the contrast between college and ocean rowing.
“There are a lot more waves here, there is a lot more fun involved in this,” says Bonner, whose college event is usually a varsity eight. Here, it’s a two-woman band. The Longport race was a coming of age for this tandem.
“Last year we got fourth in the Longport race and thought that was all right,” Bonner says. “It was really exciting for us to be right in the battle for first place in a race this year and then to get second overall. We did not have that kind of expectation going into it.”
Nor did she expect to finish second, by one second, in the singles row.
Meyer put points on the board for Avalon with fourth-place finishes in the Cape May County and Longport Women’s race. The Newton, Pa., native competes in the 200 individual medley and relatively short races compared to the open-water ocean world. She prefers the longer, more unpredictable ocean course to the straight, measured college pool.
Guarding is a family affair for Meyer, who gained inspiration by seeing her sister Madison serve the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol.
Upcoming Avalon guards view the season as a personal improvement platform. Brendan Carney, for example, helped Avalon gain a second in the surf dash at the Beschen-Callahans. The rising junior at George Washington University is a rower but teamed with Greg Carr, Mike Corcoran and Jeff Conboy to give Avalon a team victory. Carney likes that the sprint resembles the lifesaving experience because “most rescues are close to shore.”
Rookie Brandon Hontz, a 4:08 miler at Penn State, also improves steadily as a rower.
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