North Hills High School seniors part of crew to reach national event

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

It was during a long, cold winter when Brad Walter and Greg Lewis began working toward a trip to sunny California.

The North Hills High School seniors and members of the Three Rivers Rowing Association pushed themselves and their teammates through grueling indoor winter workouts on rowing machines and in small paddling tanks, while knowing it all would pay off on the water soon enough.

“The winter season is our hardest time of the year,” said coach Steve McCarthy. “The training is the most intense, and it's the most boring because we're cooped up inside. Being inside and not on the water doing the hardest work of the season, those two guys really held everyone together.”

It all paid off at the Midwest Junior Rowing Championships held May 18 and 19 at East Fork State Park in Bethel, Ohio. Walter and Lewis punched their tickets to the USRowing Youth National Championships from June 13 to 15 at Lake Natoma in Folsom, Calif.

“They had the Midwest championships in mind even when the river was frozen,” said McCarthy, 25, of Fox Chapel.

Walter teamed with Tommy McNamara of Mt. Lebanon to take gold in the men's youth pair, while Walter, Lewis, McNamara, Quaker Valley's Dylan Redzanic and Avonworth's Will Graf teamed up to take third in the men's youth 4-plus. Graf served as coxswain, while his fellow seniors rowed. Both events are 1,500 meters.

Walter, 18, and Lewis, 17, are making their second trip to nationals. Walter and North Hills graduate Josh Hockenberry took second in the pair event and Lewis was on the four-plus that finished 13th at last year's championships, held in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

As of May 27, there were 13 other entries in the pair and 19 in the four-plus.

No matter the amount of opponents, Walter, of Ross Township, said he just wants to go against the best in the nation.

“For me, it really makes me want to work because I want to see how I stack up against these other teams,” said Walter, who received a partial athletic scholarship to row at Northeastern University in Boston, which is McCarthy's alma mater.

Experience could be a determining factor at the championships, a three-day event that tests the fortitude of its competitors.

“The series of races with (Friday) heats and (Saturday) semifinals and (Sunday) finals is different than anything else we do during the season,” said Lewis, who is bound for Penn State-Erie, which does not have a rowing team.

The ultimate goal is to make it to the Class A or “grand” finals to determine the overall champion in each event. After earning silver in the pair last year, Walter is on a mission to upgrade his medal.

“Definitely, making it to the grand finals is an expectation,” he said. “I'd like to get gold, but I don't know exactly how we're going to stack up until we're there.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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