SE: Rowing Up the Ranks

When Kansas State’s newest rowing student-athletes become confused, frustrated and wondering what they got themselves into, their assistant coaches will know exactly how they feel. 

It is all part of the process, which K-State’s assistants — Hanna Wiltfong, Beth DeMars and Madi Haney — know firsthand. 

All three dove into K-State’s rowing program completely new to the sport. Now, with DeMars and Haney recently being named assistant K-State coaches for the 2016-17 season, all three can relate the developmental process Wildcat rowers endure early on to their own experiences. 

“I think that is really helpful to have us who have been in that same situation. We know what the girls are going through. We know how they feel,” Haney said. “It’s important to be that voice for the team when you’re going into making decisions about how you’re going to coach or what you’re going to do. You can put yourself back in the position of being a rower, know how it was when you were there and what you would want and what you wouldn’t.”

DeMars agreed. 

“It’s extremely beneficial,” she said. “Most schools don’t recruit girls who’ve never rowed before and then teach them in one year how that works. It’s helpful knowing how we coach and how our program works, rather than bringing in someone who wouldn’t know that.”

DeMars (2011-15) and Haney (2012-16), who are replacing Stephanie Van Matre and filling an opening from a new NCAA policy that allows four full-time coaches per rowing program, both entered K-State as walk-ons. Each developed into strong performers, with DeMars’ time on the team including consecutive top-three finishes at the Big 12 Championships, and Haney working her way to a spot on the All-Big 12 team as a senior. 

On top of the opportunity to compete at the Division I level — a selling point to recruits — K-State provides student-athletes “so much” more. 

“My lifelong friends, experiences that taught me about myself and hard work. It was more than just rowing,” said Haney, who traveled this summer to Costa Rica for nine days for the “Cats Across Continents” community service experience. “There’s just so much that K-State offers all of the student-athletes, and that was a big thing for me, that we got all of the opportunities that everyone else did.”

Now, those opportunities will continue in different roles. 

DeMars spent last season as a graduate assistant, soaking up every aspect of coaching. From recruiting, breaking in new rowers and coaching at meets, she got a well-rounded sneak peak into her new job, one she never foresaw. 

“I never really thought this would be an option for me, so it was really cool that it became an option for me,” said DeMars, a third generation K-State graduate. “It was really cool to see the new girls become part of the sport, learn the sport and learn to love it. It will be really cool this year to see them race.”

Haney, who will officially start August 1 when the NCAA policy takes effect, will be learning the coaching side, which she described as an “incredible opportunity,” on the go. Like DeMars, she never imagined coaching as a possibility, especially when she first started. 

“I thought from day one I was going to get cut,” she said, laughing at the memory. “I had no idea it would take me as far as it did. I was always committed and I knew I wanted to go as far as I could, but I just had no idea what it had in store for me.

“If you would’ve told me that at the end of this I would’ve been coaching, I would not have even believed you. I just grew so much.” 

The growth is common because of K-State rowing’s culture, which centers around one aspect. 

“We’re all extremely hard workers,” DeMars said. “That’s kind of what we work by, because we may not be the most talented at first because we don’t know the sport, so we have to work extremely hard to get there.”

The work it takes to overcome how green K-State’s rowers are in the beginning is high. It’s why keeping former team members on staff brings added value. 

“I think it means more because you fought on that same team with those girls, you want them to do well and you’re invested in them already from the beginning,” Haney said. “It will be really rewarding to give them the opportunities that rowing gave me. I want to be a part of that and help them in any way that I can.”

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