Meet the Assistants | Hanna Wiltfong

August 5, 2015

By Kelly Stewart

Looking forward to the 2015-16 athletics season, K-State Sports Extra will take the next six Wednesdays to introduce its readers to K-State’s new assistant coaches. With new faces in the volleyball, tennis, soccer and baseball programs and familiar faces stepping up in the women’s basketball and rowing programs, we are excited to introduce you to a few of the newest members of the K-State family.

Hanna Wiltfong: K-State Rowing Assistant Coach

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri

Previous position: Graduate Assistant Coach (K-State, 2012-15)

When you sit down with K-State rowing’s new assistant coach Hanna Wiltfong, it doesn’t take long to realize she’s passionate about the Wildcat rowing program.

A former Wildcat rower herself, she knows what each and every one of the young women she coaches is going through. She’s walked in their shoes, sat in their boat, and, now a member of the coaching staff, is excited to use her past experiences to push this squad further than they ever imagined.

“Being able to coach the team that built me, it’s really, really cool,” said Wiltfong, who spent the past three years as a graduate assistant with the program. “I know what the girls are going through. I know what it’s like to do this sport that is so, so hard when, in the beginning, you don’t even know if you care about it yet. Watching them learn to care about it through their teammates is really special to me.”

Wiltfong rowed for K-State before the new, state-of-the-art Intercollegiate Rowing Center was completed. She never had an indoor rowing tank to practice in when the harsh Kansas winters kept her and her teammates off the water, but she worked hard regardless. She didn’t know much – if anything – about the sport coming into K-State as a freshman in 2008, but with the work ethic between her and her teammates, she grew to love it.

“No one in my family went to college, so when I got the chance, I thought it was a joke,” she explained about how she first got involved with K-State rowing. “I didn’t think I could be recruited for a Division I sport. It didn’t make sense to me, but my mom told me not to turn my nose up at the opportunity, so I gave it a chance. I came on a visit and all the girls were my height and were all also recruited to do something they never heard of. It was crazy, but the minute I left my official visit, I knew it was real, and I knew I could do this.”

In her four years at K-State, Wiltfong put together a strong career where she served as a team captain her junior and senior seasons (2011-12), leading the Cats to unmatched heights at the time. She became the first Wildcat rower in the history of the program to be named to the All-Big 12 First Team and, off the water, earned back-to-back Academic All-Big 12 honors and CRCA Scholar-Athlete honors in 2011 and 2012.

During her time as a graduate assistant coach, Wiltfong was a part of a some of the best years in K-State rowing history. Through assisting the recruiting staff and helping coach the novice squads, she has helped K-State earn top-three finishes in the Big 12 Conference in consecutive years. She has been a part of many exciting years for the program so far and, moving forward, is excited for what the future holds.

Sitting at her desk surrounded by photos and memorabilia of her past seven years with the program, Wiltfong can’t help but look back at her path that got her to this point. 

“I think the passion really, really took root on my first day here when I looked around at my incoming class and none of us knew what we were doing,” said Wiltfong as tears welled up in her eyes. “We didn’t know anything. So we put our hands in and said we’re not giving up on this; and we didn’t. We were not fit, we were not Division I athletes, we were just kids who wanted to work hard.”

So now, using her own experience as an example, Wiltfong can connect with her rowers on a deeper level. Her message is simple: not one incoming freshman is better than the other. Rather, it’s up to each individual on how hard they are willing to work.

She knows… she’s been there.

“I never did a sport where I was the best before, and this gave me a chance,” Wiltfong said. “If you’re here, you probably didn’t get picked up to play volleyball, and you probably didn’t get picked up to play basketball, so that meant you were a tall girl who wasn’t really producing. That can be tough in high school, but then you come here and your stature is really a big component of success; it’s a mind-altering thing.

“A big part of my passion now is knowing what kind of change can occur within these young women on the team,” she continued. “It’s really empowering to watch them find a confidence in themselves that they probably would have never had had they not been pushed to the brink with these girls in this beautiful building. It wouldn’t have happened. I feel like I’m building them into stronger people. They might not be Olympic rowers, but they’re going to be titans no matter what life throws their way.”

Wiltfong joins a staff of long-time Wildcat rowing head coach Pat Sweeney, who is heading into his 13th season, and fellow assistant coach Stephanie VanMatre. According to Wiltfong, the trio compliments each other and is excited to continue working together toward the upcoming season.

“I think our staff really works well together,” Wiltfong said. “We definitely have a safe environment for constructive criticism, and we’re very hard on each other, but rowing is a hard sport. If we conducted ourselves any differently, then we’d be letting the girls down. So I enjoy it. We hold each other to a high standard.”

With a past that has well prepared her for her current position, Wiltfong is ready to take on her first season as an assistant coach and continue leading K-State rowing to success.

“I enjoy working with humble kids, and we have very humble kids,” said Wiltfong. “They really look to you for advice. They come to you and go to each other with respect. Watching them compete in that erg room, in the tank or on the water, it makes every single early morning worth it because they just continue to grow together and as individuals every day.

“And that’s what I’m here for.”

 

NEW VFC OPERATIONAL AND READY FOR 2015 SEASON

MANHATTAN, Kan. – With the Kansas State football team set to report on Wednesday the 2015 season, K-State Athletics has officially opened the new Vanier Family Football Complex as Wildcat coaches and staff have moved into the building and football student-athletes were provided initial access to the facility.

“It is a great day for K-State as the beautiful new Vanier Family Football Complex is operational and open for our football staff and student-athletes,” said Athletics Director John Currie. “This new facility is another example of our commitment to a World-Class Student-Athlete Experience and being a Model Intercollegiate Athletics Program while furthering our position as a leader at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics. We appreciate the flexibility of our staff during this process and also the hard work and hustle of our design and construction management teams as well as all of our donors who helped make this project a reality. It was truly a team effort, and I know this is a facility that the K-State Nation will be proud of and will be the envy of all other programs.”

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For video of the players’ first look at the new Vanier Football Complex, please click here