Benderson Park crowded during 2015 Youth National Rowing Finals

UNIVERSITY PARKWAY -- Joe and Maryanne Manganello had never attended one of their granddaughter's rowing competitions until the 2015 USRowing Youth National Championships came to their backyard this weekend at Nathan Benderson Park.

It didn't disappoint, they said.

"This is our first experience," she said Saturday. "We love it."

Joe Manganello looked around Benderson Park and said he was surprised more grandparents weren't in the stands.

"This is a young person's sport," he said.

With their granddaughter, Cecilia Manganello, living in Dallas, they said they had never been able to attend one of her rowing competitions -- until now.

Living in the area, the couple said they have driven past the park many times, especially during trips to The Mall at University Town Center.

"I think this is great," he said. "The venue was magnificent."

The grandparents beamed as they watched their granddaughter take a photo with her crew team. She ran over to them immediately after -- happy for their presence.

"It was really nice," Cecelia said to have them at her competition.

Hundreds of spectators

lined the sandy beaches of Benderson Park as 163 youth rowing teams of high-school athletes from around the country competed Saturday during the midway point of the three-day event. The competition will resume at 7 a.m. Sunday followed by semifinals and finals to determine national champions.

Sarasota family and supporters shouted as their men's team rowed into the semifinals.

Nearby, the girl's team also had success on the water.

"Nationals is always tough competition," said Alexandra "Allie" Pitchford. "It's always exciting to get that far."

She and teammate, Alexandra "Sasha" Grujin, will move on to college soon.

"It feels weird and bittersweet. When I'm done with this, I'm going on to college," Grujin said. "It's exciting that new and better things are coming."

Grujin has been accepted to the University of Texas-Austin and will join the rowing team.

Pitchford is headed to the University of Oxford. Her mother said skills she learned through rowing helped her get into the prestigious university.

Officials also seemed pleased with the event's success.

"The regatta is running very smoothly," one referee said as he rushed to prepare for the semifinals.

Shauna Johnson sat near the shore during a break. Her daughter with Capital Crew of Sacramento won her heat and would be moving on to the semifinals in about an hour. Johnson said the competition would be tough.

"I'm very proud," Shauna Johnson said. 'She's continuing on from here to Connecticut to train for World's."

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.