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Row, row, row your boat

North Catyholic rowers, from left, Emma Nicotra, Julia Riley, Zoe Pezzuolo (coxswain), Keira Krebs and Leah Mansfield show off their third-place medals at the Midwest Championship. Submitted Photo
The sport is serious business for North Catholic girls headed to nationals

CRANBERRY TWP — Emma Nicotra and Julia Riley played basketball. Keira Krebs played volleyball. Leah Mansfield is a dancer.

Zoey Pezzuolo is the coxswain and “leader” in the boat.

These five North Catholic High School girls have come together to form the school’s Women’s Jr. 4+ rowing team that has qualified for the Scholastic Nationals in Oak Ridge, Tenn., next weekend. They got there by placing third out of 24 teams at the recent Midwest Championship in Milford, Mich.

This is the first North Catholic rowing team to reach nationals in eight years. Julia is a sophomore and the other four girls are juniors.

The North Catholic Girls JV 4+ rowing team is shown at a competition this season. Submitted Photo

“We won the national championship in their division in 1994,” said Frank Sands, North Catholic’s rowing coach since the school formed the program in 1990. “These girls got to meet those girls. That was a neat thing.

“It’s their discipline and dedication to the sport that’s got them where they are. All of these girls are excellent students, too. They are great kids and great friends with each other.”

The team has eight matches per spring season, which begins the second week of March. But North Catholic practices throughout the winter and has a fall season as well.

Practices and local competitions take place on the Allegheny River, near Millvale. They’ve also competed in events in Michigan, Philadelphia and Ohio.

Zoey has been a coxswain since eighth grade, when she joined the rowing team.

“The coaches thought I had the characteristics to be a coxswain right away,” she said. “I can give directions well and I’m a competitive person. The coxswain is like being a coach on the boat.

“I feel like I can be a bit of a role model to the younger kids.”

Emma got involved with rowing through Zoey, who is a good friend of hers.

“I gave it a try and after a week, I loved it,” Emma said. “We’ve become so competitive and cohesive as a group. It’s just a cool atmosphere. Everything has come together for us.”

A typical high school rowing event consists of a 1,500-meter race, which generally lasts between five and seven minutes. Most competitions require a team to do two or three races.

“Being in sync as rowers is very important,” Zoe said.

Some of North Catholic’s teachers are former competitive rowers and recommend some students to give it a try. That’s how Leah wound up on the team.

“My freshman history teacher told me I had a rower’s body and should look into it,” Leah said. “A rower’s body is someone 5-foot-9 or taller, big shoulders, strong quads ... I went to one of Coach’s Learn to Row sessions and picked up on it fairly quickly.”

Sands invites seventh and eighth-graders to come to a Learn to Row session during early mornings in June. He has a rowing tank in which he shows them the stroke and teaches them the sport.

He said 22 kids are signed up to attend a Learn to Row session in June.

“Our rowing team has sent more kids to Division I college scholarships through the years than all of our other sports combined,” Sands said. “We’ve sent 140 to 150 kids on to college that way.”

There are 11 high schools in the Pittsburgh region that have rowing teams. A Class 3A program, North Catholic competes in Class 6A. The team has defeated Central Catholic, “which has 70 to 80 kids on their team to our 10.”

One school in Chicago has 5,600 students and 165 on its rowing team. The Trojanettes defeated that team at the Midwest Championship.

“They had more kids on their rowing team than we had in our school on Troy Hill,” Sands recalled.

Keira describes the rowing team as “a family” to her.

“I’m real competitive and this is so much fun,” she said.

North Catholic is competing in the Stotesbury Cup, the largest high school regatta in the country, in Philadelphia this weekend. The Trojanettes reached the semifinal round by placing eighth out of 56 boats in their race.

There are 187 schools and more than 6,000 rowers from 26 states and Canada at that event.

“It’s a good prelude to nationals,” Sands said.

“We practice five days a week, sometimes seven days,” Julia said. “The competitions can get tiring, but they’re worth it. Our training efforts are making us better rowers and better people.”

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