Pine-Richland grad reaches for the stars on Embry-Riddle rowing team

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Sunday, July 17, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Kristen Vigna wanted to do two things in college: study astronomy and astrophysics and be on a rowing team.

She wasn’t quite sure that the two together would be possible.

But an internet search revealed a perfect match in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“There aren’t many schools that have (astronomy and astrophysics) as a major and combine that with rowing, so when I found them it was pretty exciting,” Vigna said.

Two years later, Vigna, a 2020 Pine-Richland grad, is studying the field she dreamed about and rowing in national championships.

Vigna helped the Embry-Riddle 4-boat place second at the NCAA Division II Championship in Sarasota, Fla. in May.

Embry-Riddle placed third overall at the D-2 championship, capping off a year in which it won the Sunshine State Conference title. Vigna sat bow seat on the 4-boat, which won SSC boat of the year.

When Vigna joined Embry-Riddle last year, it was only in its fourth year of NCAA D-2 competition, so she’s helped the program reach big goals in a short period of time.

“There weren’t many expectations when I got here, because we had to build up our team,” Vigna said. “Last year, there was still covid restrictions, so we weren’t even sure we were going to have a season. We had small training groups and those were the only ones you were allowed to interact with. We didn’t get cleared to go to any races until the week before the season.”

Vigna ran cross country and track at Pine-Richland growing up but wanted to find a new sport to try. A meeting at a middle school lunch table was her first introduction to rowing.

“We were sitting there eating and it just so happened that the rowing team came over and handed out information about joining the team,” Vigna said. “I was tired of running, so I decided to try rowing and I ended up absolutely loving it. When I joined the team, we only had four girls on the team, which was barely enough to make a boat, so we had to drag some of our friends to come row with us and we all stuck it out all the way through.”

She credited her coaches at Pine-Richland — Sam DiMarzio, Bela Loskoch, Sarah Heastings and Jared Zurich — for her passion for the sport.

Embry-Riddle’s 4-boat finished second to Mercyhurst at the national championship. They hadn’t faced Mercyhurst prior to the championship and narrowly finished behind them.

“Going into NCAAs, our 4-boat was ranked first and we were undefeated,” Vigna said. “We knew that Mercyhurst could sprint and really get that boat moving in the last 1,000 meters, which really isn’t our tactic. I remember seeing them coming. We had only 200 meters left, which is like a minute, when they caught us and they beat us across the line by two seconds. It hurt a little bit, but we put everything out there we had. We couldn’t be too upset, especially being a new program.”

Vigna’s goal is to be a researcher in the astronomy and astrophysics field once she graduates. She also has her eye on helping her boat win the school’s first national championship.

“It’s definitely a big motivator going into next year,” Vigna said. “We’re all very competitive here and we want to see how far we can push it.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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