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Pine-Richland crew coach gets unique opportunity

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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Pine-Richland crew coach Zach Petronic, front row, second from right, got a chance to live out a dream by rowing internationally in Russia.

Ever since he was a freshman at North Allegheny, rower Zach Petronic (a 2010 NA graduate) knew if he ever got the opportunity to row internationally, he would go for it.

Petronic is studying at Pitt and is an assistant crew coach at Pine-Richland.

Last summer Petronic tried out for the U.S. National Crew Team through the selection regatta but fell short on his bid to make the team. He spent the fall, winter and spring seasons training under Pine-Richland Crew coach Florin Curuea, who rowed for the 2012 Romanian team in the Summer Olympics in London.

Petronic then headed off to an identification camp at Princeton, N.J. with the goal of earning a spot on the National U-23 Crew team so he could compete in the 2013 World University Games held July 6-8 in Kazan, Russia.

“I was not sure I would have a chance to make it,” Petronic said. “I submitted my (ergometer) scores to the national team so I could apply to the U-23 team.”

Mark Roberts, one of Petronic's coaches, noted that to ascend from the college level to the national level is a huge jump, and several tests have to be passed and a lot of training has to take place.

“It takes a lot of initiative, because Zach had to find the team. The team didn't come looking for him,” Roberts said. “There are a lot of facets involved to get from his current level to the national team. The competition he was rowing against rows in greater volume.”

Petronic received an e-mail at the end of May and admitted he was a little surprised, but he accepted an offer to go to Boston to train at the Community Rowing, Inc. Boathouse select camp as one of 16 athletes chosen to try out for an eight-person boat.

“I won my seat race and a spot on the boat and spent the next four weeks at Princeton and competed against a senior national team and an Australian U-23 team,” Petronic said.

“We didn't win by a long shot. But that was a good test for us. That was the fastest competition we were ever up against, and it was a totally new and surreal experience for all of us.”

The next step was to head to Moscow and a two-hour flight to Kazan, which is the Russian sports capital. The atmosphere was bigger than Petronic imagined. There were 170 countries represented by a total of 13,500 athletes in various sports.

“We stayed in the athletes' village, trained for two days and then raced on July 6,” Petronic said. “We were as prepared as we could have been. We could have had a better race. I think some nerves got to us during the second half of the race, and (we) placed last. We went on to the elimination round, and we were able to eliminate Norway, sending us to the Grand Finals. We didn't race as well as we did in the semis, but we did all we could and placed sixth in the Grand Finals.”

The U-23 team was the youngest in the competition by an average of five years.

“We were limited to athletes under the age of 23, where the other teams were not limited,” Petronic said. “The experience was varied from Olympic guys to new guys.”

The outcome aside, Petronic said now that he's had a taste of international competition, he wants more.

“Zach was completely focused on this,” Roberts said. “It was his goal and dream and he got to see it come to fruition. He is a high school coach, and it is good for the high school kids to see his success. All he weeks and months of work and preparation … it's a big deal.

“Most people just see the success, but don't realize the grind and everything that goes into it. If you are off your game, someone will take your spot.”

Petronic will continue to train in hopes of making the World Cup Circuit in a year or two.

“I have to thank the Pine-Richland crew team for supporting my trip (which was self-funded) — Florin and Mark,” Petronic said.

Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or jeclark@tribweb.com .

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