Members of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club went to Clermont, Florida, last week expecting to have a strong showing at the USA Sprint Canoe/Kayak National Championships.
But even they were surprised by just how well the team performed.
The LCKC won the 27-team competition by a landslide and had eight athletes qualify for next month’s Olympic Hopes Regatta in the Czech Republic. LCKC coach Kalen Scholz said the largest margin of victory at the event in recent years was about 200 points — her team accumulated almost 400 points more than the second-place squad.
“We we expecting good results, but I was a little surprised by how good across the board we were as far as the team points,” Scholz said. “We also had the highest point-winner in almost every age category … There were gasps in the room when the scores were announced.”
Though it was a monumental achievement for the Gainesville-based team, several of LCKC’s younger competitors were recognized for their individual accomplishments.
Among those who qualified for the international Olympic Hopes Regatta beginning Sept. 10 were Paige Farley-Klacik, Natalie Brunson, Edward Surles, Caleb Copper, Walker Peck, Andrew Surles, Lisa Swenson and Caitlin Marsh.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Farley-Klacik. “I almost can’t believe it. I think I’m actually the youngest on the team to make it … I had been training for nationals knowing that it was qualifying for Olympic Hopes.”
Scholz said the Olympic Hopes Regatta, which includes competitors who turn 15-to-17 years old within the calendar year, is a good “in-between” event for young athletes.
That’s because the Junior World Championships regatta doesn’t divide races by age groups, often pitting 15-year-olds against elite 18-year-olds. After the LCKC sent five competitors to last year’s Olympic Hopes Regatta, Scholz was quite pleased with this year’s crop.
“This is the most we’ve ever had go to this competition,” the coach said. “It’s kind of becoming bigger, and we’re seeing more and more athletes set their sights on it.”
Unsurprisingly, a few of those young athletes heading to the Czech Republic next month played a huge role in LCKC’s dominant victory in the Sprint National Championships.
Edward Surles was the team’s second-highest point-winner, and Farley-Klacik was fourth thanks to her four golds, four silvers and one bronze.
Farran Smith earned the most points for LCKC, while Owen Farley-Klacik produced the third highest total, with both doing so less than a week after returning from the Junior World Championships in Romania. Kevin Rochester rounded out the team’s top-five point-winners.
“They were all really successful, won a lot of medals and definitely helped carry the team,” Scholz said.
LCKC brought 49 athletes to the Sprint National Championships and captured 42 golds, 30 silvers and 31 bronzes.
The team reeled in several other individual honors: best male Bantam canoer (Rochester), best male Juvenile canoer (Edward Surles), best female Junior kayaker (Smith), best male Junior kayaker (Owen Farley-Klacik), best male senior K2 team kayakers (Stanton Collins, Aaron Mullican) and best male senior K4 kayakers (Owen Farley-Klacik, Drew Deppe, Collins, Mullican.)
It was all part of a crushing victory for the Hall County club, one that showed the team’s strength across the board and shocked even its own athletes.
Well, not all of them.
“I wasn’t really too surprised,” Paige Farley-Klacik said. “Our coaches have been working us pretty hard, and this team just has so much dedication. We had a lot of us that were working really hard to represent our team and our state.”