By Mark Janssen
Manhattan, KAN. - Coach Patrick Sweeney keeps his sport in perspective.
Outside of the Kansas State women's rowing program itself, he says, "Who actually cares if we're winning or losing? We understand how football and basketball are big business, but I think our program is here to be part of the education system."
Kansas State enters the four-team Big 12 Championship on Saturday in Oklahoma City, Okla., with high hopes of "doing as well as we can," said Sweeney.
Sweeney adds, "On paper, it doesn't look like we're having a great year, but really we're doing a very good job with such a young team. We're not winning a lot of races, which is disappointing because I like to win. But I'm not disappointed with where we are."
Among the elite programs in the nation, women's intercollegiate rowing has become one of international flavor compared to a local flavor for teams like K-State. Sweeney estimates that at least one-third of the Texas rowers this weekend are foreign student-athletes. To a slightly lesser degree, the same is true at Oklahoma.
"What we do is take kids from the farm and teach them to row," Sweeney said. "We try to contact all the Kansas schools and approach those quality athletes in basketball that Debbie (Patterson) has not picked up, or in volleyball that Suzie (Fritz) has not picked up, and just ask them, 'Do you want a shot at being a Division I athlete and to be a part of a great athletic program?'
"Because of the needs in our sport, we're looking for that girl that is 5-foot-9 or taller, who has some raw athleticism, has a work ethic, and has the openness to be challenged mentally," said Sweeney.
Sweeney says it normally takes two years to learn the sport, and then, "In that third year we want to start knocking people off and in the fourth year we really want be a factor."
But with his current philosophy, Sweeney understands K-State may never be a national factor, but that's OK with him.
"I'm a foreigner, but I believe this sport at the college level should be for Americans," said Sweeney, a former British National Team member and past coach of the Belgian Olympic Team and British Olympic Team. "I am a Brit, but I can't believe that American colleges are funding so many outsiders.
"If you went to other countries and tried to bring in American athletes, they'd kick you out. They wouldn't hear of it," he said. "It's not just Texas, but all the elite programs around the country have entire boats of foreign athletes. We're not a money-maker, so what does this accomplish in some of our Olympic sports of tennis, track and rowing. Why not give American kids an opportunity."
Sweeney said he's had conversations with athletics director John Currie about the desires for K-State's rowing program.
"If we want to be No. 1 in the country, we need to go recruit 20 foreign athletes," Sweeney said. "But we want a good healthy program of Kansas kids, who have a desire to earn a quality education. Our desire is to be very competitive, and really good some years. It's a decision of winning at all costs or trying to be within an educational system."
K-State's rowing roster includes the NCAA maximum of 20 scholarships that are spread over 40 to 45 student-athletes. In addition, another 20 walk-ons complete the K-State roster. Of those, only one is a native of another state other than Kansas or Missouri.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIPS
May 1 - Oklahoma City
1st Varsity 8 - Anna Young (Americus), Nicole Vogt (Wichita) Kris Richman (Hutchinson), Hanna Wiltfong (Kansas City, Mo.), Nicole Burdiek (Emporia), Amanda Weishaar (Lawrence), Traci Smiley (Shawnee), Ali Peters (Blue Springs, Mo.), Whitley Jackson (Lawrence)
2nd Varsity 8 - Jayci McKenney (Fort Scott), Audrey Polifka (Quinter), Adria Ley (Lenexa), Justine Walsh (Blue Rapids), Jackie Swab (Olathe), Melissa Steen (Wamego), Sierra Cuda (Napton, Mo.), Kylie Hanson (Pawnee Rock), Weatherly Butler (Lawrence)
1st Varsity 4 - Amanda Keim (McPherson), Melanie Rogers (Larned), Paula Wortman (Overland Park), Michelle Bergman (Overland Park), Chelsey Mueller (Assaria)
1st Novice 8 - Nicole Stuckey (Wichita), Brittany Leathers (Quinter), Danielle Glynn (Lansing), Morrisa Rumage (Olathe), Bethany Johnson (Salina), Riley Hicks (Derby), Tricia Walker (Blue Rapids), Kaitlyn Saathoff (Tonganoxie), Kaitlyn Arrow (St. Louis, Mo.)