Endless Summer 2018

Girl Power

Sea Isle Wins the Women’s Version of the South Jerseys

By Dave Bontempo

The 2018 champions pose with the Bill Howarth Women’s Lifeguard Invitational trophy. Front row (from left): Capt. John Temme, Bridget O’Hanlon, Madison Lewis, Amanda Conley, Kristi Rohrer, Madison Ulrich, Lt. Dave Stearne. Back row: Lizzie Walheim, Mandi Basantis, Rachel Stremme, Natalie Alleva, Meghan Sears and Shannon Boyle.

Sea Isle City has a new women’s movement.


Female beach-patrol members seized the coveted Bill Howarth Women’s Lifeguard Invitational in Ventnor, which is widely considered the women’s version of the men’s South Jersey lifeguard racing championship, in early August. A nucleus of five- and six-year veterans broke through to give Sea Isle a moment in the sun.


The victory capped a strong season both for Sea Isle City and neighboring Upper Township, which rode the seasoning of doubles partners Kyle Rumaker and Ryan Fisher to a Tri-Resorts championship and respectability in most season-long events.

For Sea Isle, this was the Super Bowl on sand, and water.


“This is a major win,” Sea Isle City chief Renny Steele says. “The women work real hard. They come in during the morning, they do the hard training that is beneficial to them and they understand what we need to do in the water.


“It is very satisfying for all of us to see their efforts rewarded with a victory. Our administration supports the girls as much as we support the guys and we are excited about this. The girls really did some damage in the out-of-town races. They were able to shine.”


These females are a collection of high school and college rowers, runners and track stars. Kristi Rohrer, Rachel Stremme, Mandi Basantis and Amanda Conley won the surf dash (or “bash,” as Steele calls it) to clinch the team title in Ventnor. Natalie Alleva, a season-long singles-rowing force, took second in the singles swim there. Madison Lewis procured two important points in the swim. Meghan Sears contributed all year and was part of the group that had nearly won the Ocean City women’s race one week earlier.


Pat Scannapieco and Danny Rogers, doubles row.


Although it first resembles a Cinderella story, Sea Isle’s victory was hard-earned according to Dave Stearne, the beach patrol lieutenant who coached the women along with captain John Temme.


“This says a lot about the culture here,” Stearne says. “These girls bought into our approach three or four years ago. They show up in numbers to practice. We are not working magic, the girls just believed in it. You can try lots of different philosophies, but none of them can work if people don’t buy in.”


Stearne was pleased that Conley, listed as a newcomer, was actually a patrol veteran who worked hard enough over the years to force her way into the lineup. She then helped Sea Isle’s surf-dash team collect its 10th win in 15 races over the past five years.


The magical evening began with Lewis delivering fourth in the swim. Alleva added the rowing points and the surf-dash team handily won the final competition. Rohrer burst to the lead, gave Sea Isle a strong cushion and her teammates added to it.


Sea Isle City, which had finished second in the Ocean City Invitational based on a tiebreaker, went one step further a week later.


Sears, the elder stateswoman of this group with six years’ service, echoes a team sentiment of not being denied.


“I completely agree that Ventnor is the women’s South Jerseys, you’re facing the best of the best,” says the former Temple lacrosse player. “It’s a home run if you get that, it’s incredible. I have seen girls go in and out of this patrol over time, but we as a team have never lost the longing to win that. Everybody wanted it. There was no feeling that this or that rower on another team was better than you. Everyone has a great mind-set and I think that is why we caught it at the end. We felt we were going to win it.”


Some of the 2018 rookie class assisting with moving the boats and equipment during one of the races.


Rohrer, a midfielder for the Widener University lacrosse team, was strategically placed in the leadoff spot for most races. The five-year veteran came through again in Ventnor, giving her team the lead. Stremme, a fifth-year guard and University of Pennsylvania track performer, embraced the sprinting mode of this competition. The surf dash requires an alert start and all-out adrenaline. There is no sense of pacing, just as there would not be in a fast-paced lifeguard rescue close to shore.


“Dave says we are just one wet track team,” she laughs.


Alleva was a mainstay in the singles row and enjoyed a big year overall. She also competed for Drexel in the Henley Regatta in England.


“This is very satisfying,” she says. “For five years, we have been competing together and working so hard. We always felt we were just a tiny bit short, so it was awesome to win in front of all the people and our teammates.”


Nick Matoush, singles row.


This victory was sweeter for Alleva, who wasn’t sure if the academic juggle would permit her to summer here for a fifth campaign.  The same dilemma looms next summer, meaning this might have been her final beach-patrol event. If so, this was a memorable exit.


Steele says it meant even more to triumph in the event named for the late Bill Howarth, a pioneer for the female circuit.


“He was always looking for races in New Jersey where the female guards could be entered,” Steele says. “When the public sees what these girls could do, especially in the Ventnor race, it changes the way they look at female lifeguards.”


Female competitors emerged in a giant way across the South Jersey lifeguard circuit this year. Stearne says the notoriety stems from the spread of talent across several patrols. There were rivalries, matchup anticipations and relay events not found in the men’s realm. Indeed, postseason sentiment grew for a separate female South Jersey championship. Handley, the president of the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association, says the idea will be considered but that the logistics are difficult.


John Dattallo, singles row.


“It’s easy for people to suggest we start earlier in the evening with women’s races,” he says. “The problem is, everybody has beaches to run, and how are you going to get everyone there, etc. All races have been open to women since the South Jerseys began in 1924. I don’t know how we will accomplish adding [a women’s section], but it will be discussed.”


Handley’s daughter, Brooke, contributed steadily to Upper Township’s campaign while its tandem of Rumaker and Fisher blossomed in their second year together. Rumaker rows for the University of Delaware and Fisher for La Salle.


“Kyle and Ryan had a tremendous season,” Handley says. “They developed at an early age, made it to the patrol and they flourished this summer. They showed much more experience in the different elements, like the starts, the turns, getting in and out of the surf. They were stronger technically this year. We believe we are going to have them back next year and that’s more for us to build on.”


Upper Township won the Tri-Resorts event it hosts. John Dattalo set the tone by capturing the singles rowing competition, with Rumaker second. The Rumaker-Fisher combo teamed up to capture the doubles. Aaron Holibaugh, Amanda Eller and Jake Davis added a triumph in the mile-relay run. Handley credits Dattalo, a veteran who came over from the Brigantine patrol, with helping the young rowers.

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