Women's Rowing Season Preview: Moving Forward
Dedication and teamwork are the truest marks of any rower. From lengthy weekends of rigorous regattas to the mental and physical stress that the sport demands of a college student-athlete, it is considered by many Europeans to be one of the toughest sports for the human body.
Head Coach Patrick Sweeney, in his second year at
"Rowing is physically punishing," Sweeney said. "Oarsmen normally test higher in the area of physical fitness than any other sportsman. It involves everything: upper and lower body, endurance, sprinting and doing it in unison with the other people in the boat.
"When you actually do it, you realize that the people who row have to be wacko," he said with a laugh. "I think a lot of the time, the women didn't have fun before, so I think one of the mental changes we made was that it's fun, and that they want to do it. They want to come out and train and they want to come out to the next workout.”
It's obvious that Sweeney is on a mission to turn the rowing program around, by taking it from a mediocre program to a legitimate powerhouse that will some day pose a threat to schools in the Central Region and beyond. Since Sweeney arrived in
"What we've done is we've changed the way that we recruit," he said. "The bulk of the recruiting is done in
In addition to revolutionizing the recruiting program at K-State, Coach Sweeney immediately set to work on improving the women's rowing technique, and will look to move the early morning practices to the afternoon for the 2004-05 season.
"I changed their technique and the way they row, so that has had an effect," he said. "They changed really quickly from their old way of doing things, but they just started to master the way of doing it at the end of the season. Making the changes is one part, but keeping the changes and rowing hard as well, has been a challenge. They have just begun to put the two together.”
Indeed, the term "student-athlete" is not just a meaningless motto to Sweeney, who is outspokenly committed to recruiting women in-state, and women who will stay connected and give back to
"The term student-athlete means something to me very much, and there's loyalty to the university that you're attached with," Sweeney said. "It's a give and take, and when you put something into it, there should be a bond between the student and the school that they're proud of. When they're 90 years old someday, they should still be proud of what they did at
As for the future, success and improvement will come one small step at a time. Because rowing is the ultimate team sport in which everyone depends on each other for victories, change comes slowly and incrementally. Last season, Sweeney saw small breakthroughs toward success throughout the team, although there is always room for improvement.
"When you talk about last year, I think the team did really well with its limitations," he said. "The women inherited a team that was the same as the year before and I am really pleased with what the athletes themselves accomplished. They stepped up during their races and performed as well as they could."
"They rowed well and it was the first time that they showed they could put back-to-back races together," he said. "They also rowed technically well and showed that they wanted to be competitive and not just give up. That was where you think, 'At last, something has been going on for the past six months.'"
As for the 2004-05 season that lies ahead, change and improvement will continue to come one small step at a time. Sweeney's first recruiting class at K-State will provide much needed size, as at least 20 of the women are 5-foot-10 or taller. With the turnover from graduation, the team numbers will remain relatively the same, but depth at each spot will be a little stronger. Sweeney expects legitimate depth to come the following year, after the incoming class of recruits have gone through the novice program.
And, although the East and West coasts are traditionally known for their tough competition, Sweeney said that the Central Region will provide rigorous competition in the upcoming year. Top 20 schools such as
"We are losing quite a bit of experience at the top, but there are some good bodies coming through to replace them, which will balance it out a little bit," Sweeney said. "We go out west for the San Diego Crew Classic, which is a big race and it's quite hard. But really, the competition around the area here is pretty good. The East and West are the traditions, but the Central is nasty. It's not easy, and we feel like we get competition out here that is as good as you would find on either coast."
Looking towards the upcoming season and beyond, he has high hopes for the rowing program and what is possible to accomplish. It's evident that Sweeney is in
"You would like the team to be the best in the country, but if that happens, it happens," he said. "Realistically, I want them to be knocking on the door of the Top 20 or in the Top 20 consistently, every year. There's no reason why we can't build to that. I enjoy the challenge of putting crews together, and I enjoy teaching it and passing it on to as many people as possible.
“And hopefully, it will make life better for each of the kids that go through the program. They might do it for four or five years and then stop, but hopefully in those years, they might learn something about themselves, because rowing teaches you a lot about yourself."
The fall rowing season opens on Sept. 25 at the Head of the