Western Pa. grads row Princeton boat to victory |
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Western Pa. grads row Princeton boat to victory

Keystone Oaks grad Matthew Drabick, left, and Central Catholic grad Christian Wawrzonek row for Princeton University.
Keystone Oaks grad Matthew Drabick, left, and Central Catholic grad Christian Wawrzonek row for Princeton University.

Before joining the Princeton University men’s lightweight crew as a walk-on three years ago, Keystone Oaks graduate Matthew Drabick knew nothing about the Head of the Charles Regatta, the world’s largest two-day rowing event held every October in Boston.

He never thought he would win there one day. But what once seemed like an unrealistic goal became reachable last month.

Occupying the third seat, Drabick, a senior from Dormont, helped the Tigers to first place in Men’s Lightweight 8+ (15 minutes, 2.30 seconds on a 3-mile course), two seconds ahead of runner-up Harvard.

Central Catholic graduate Christian Wawrzonek, a junior from Ben Avon, was in the sixth seat.

Marty Crotty said Drabick was the first Princeton walk-on to capture a gold medal at the regatta in his six years as the lightweight team’s head coach.

“Walk-ons tend to get lost in the mix, (but) Matt definitely did not,” Crotty said. “(He) would have if he wasn’t so (exceptional) physiologically.

“His rowing (has) come along to the point that I could put him (in) our top lineup, and he makes (it) go faster.”

Crotty considers Drabick, who did not row in high school, a phenomenal athlete.

“He (performed) better and better on our fitness tests, which we

conduct on the rowing ergometer,” Crotty said. “(High) performance on the ergometer earns you more coaching and, thus, more opportunities.

“Matt has capitalized on the attention.”

Drabick, 21, is undecided about continuing his career beyond college. At 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, he said he will need to lose weight to be considered for a lightweight position on a USRowing national team.

“I’m not as burned out as someone who has rowed (longer),” said Drabick, who looks forward to the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championship regatta in the spring. “I’m still fresh.”

Wawrzonek, 6-foot, 160 pounds, has improved, according to Crotty.

Wawrzonek, 21, said the gold medal was significant because he had to surrender a seat on a winning eight boat last year due to illness.

“I came back motivated,” he said.

The comeback did not surprise Central Catholic coach Jay Hammond, who guided Wawrzonek in high school, where he was a two-time national scholastic silver medalist in men’s varsity 8+.

“He is very, very motivated,” said Hammond, a former Harvard rower. “The Princeton coaches, especially Crotty, have done a superb job focusing his energies.”

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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