First-year Boston Latin School girls crew coach Shayne Rowan knew she had some big shoes to fill when she took the helm this spring. She was taking the place of long-time coach Gillian Curran, who had started the program over a decade before and consistently brought members of her teams to Nationals before retiring prior to this season.
But the aptly-named South End resident's foot seemed to fit just fine, as the 2011 team's lightweights finished 12th in the country at Nationals in Oak Ridge, TN early in June.
"I think they surprised a lot of people," Rowan said.
A strong blend of youth and experience constituted the team, whose finishing time at the competition sat at an impressive 8:26.39. Seniors Rae-Taylor Burns of the South End, Katie O'Neil (Charlestown) and Maddie Johnson (Roslindale) rowed alongside sophomores Teresa Frappaolo (North End) and coxswain Sarah Kiritsy (West Roxbury).
"I had so much fun coaching them," Rowan said. "I couldn't ask for a better group of girls."
Rowan's season was her first coaching at the high school level, having previously coached at Boston College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and her alma mater, Rollins College in Florida. The experience went better than she had imagined and by the season's end she preferred coaching high schoolers to college athletes, she said.
"I feel like you make such a bigger impact as a coach at the high school level," she said, adding that she has a long-term goal of helping her athletes get into college on rowing scholarships.
The team's season wasn't just successful on the water. The program also established their own boathouse along the Charles River next door to Northeastern University's. Though the structure is currently bare and unadorned (team members refer to it as "The Shack"), it should open several doors for the team just by giving it a spot to store its boats.
"Now we can have fall rowing," said Rowan.
The coach said she hopes to have the team involved in the Head of the Charles Regatta this coming autumn. With a new boathouse and a successful first season under her belt already, and with 60 girls expected on-board next season, she said there's little reason to think any goal unachievable going forward.
"I am super-excited to come back," she said. "It's only going to get better and better."