K-State Travels to Oak Ridge for SIRAs

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- K-State Women's Rowing gets back in action this weekend, traveling to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the 47th annual Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association (SIRA) Championship Regatta on April 18-19. Taking place on the site of this year's Big 12 Championship, Melton Hill Lake, the Wildcats will send five boats to compete for medals in four different races -- Women's Varsity 8, Women's Junior Varsity 8, Women's Varsity 4 and Women's Novice 8.

This weekend's action will be the second-straight regatta K-State has competed in championship-style, six-lane racing with preliminary heats starting festivities off Saturday, April 18, in the morning. Semifinals will be held later that afternoon, while event finals will take place the following morning. Streaming will be made available to fans via the U.S. Rowing YouTube channel, and a link to their site, as well as further information, such as the race schedule, can be found by visiting the SIRA Regatta website.

Last season's SIRAs saw the Wildcats level competition en route to sweeping gold in all five of the women's collegiate events -- the six Wildcat boats in total went a stellar 13-1 over the two-day regatta.

This season's field features quality crews in Jacksonville and Purdue, and head coach Patrick Sweeney sees the regatta as a solid opportunity for the team to both prepare for their upcoming schedule, as well as get acquainted with the course that Big 12s will be held on.  

"It's a great course. You can see how fast you're going, see what you're doing. It's championship racing, six lanes -- which is always important to compete in leading up to the conference meet," Sweeney said. "You want to approach everything like, `We're going to be back here in four weeks. Let's learn from this.'"
 
Added Sweeney, "This weekend is really setting up the last two races -- the KU race [Sunflower Showdown] and the Big 12 race -- which are the two big ones for us this season. You always want to perform well at both those meets. So really the aim of the team going into SIRAs is to set the stage for the next two races.

"We're hoping the competition this weekend will push us and put us under more pressure to excel. And if not, then we're going to be looking at the clock, we're going to be looking at our splits and so forth. That doesn't mean to say we can't get beat, but really it's one of those meets where the athletes themselves are going to have to learn to push themselves. To learn from it, what they're doing, and get the race pace right, those technical aspects right."

As for Big 12s, Sweeney said, "This is where the Big 12s will be held, so it's a good opportunity to go through for preparation in four weeks' time. We're in the same hotel. They're going to be eating in the same places. The course is the same. Everything. So they're actually going through kind of a dress rehearsal for Big 12s -- this is actually what you're going to be doing , this is how you're going to be doing it. It's a great opportunity to get used to the area, especially for the novice rowers."

With nearly three weeks in between the San Diego Crew Classic and this weekend's SIRAs, Sweeney said the time has allowed for the coaching staff to make minor tweaks that will hopefully increase speed for all five boats.

"We made some slight changes to the top-two boats. They're not massive changes, but I think it's refined both. They're practicing well. I think until you actually get out and compete, you can't prove it definitely, but in training they've both have been moving nicely," Sweeney said. "I've been pleased with where they are at and I'm looking forward to see how they look this weekend. Are they going faster? Have they improved? Do they look better? Those are all aspects we will be focusing on."

While the top-two boatings are nearly set for the stretch run, Sweeney said there's plenty of opportunity for change in the bottom two boats, as the novice rowers on the 4th Varsity 8 have made great strides within the past couple weeks of training. The 1st Varsity 4, meanwhile in its first year with this particular lineup, has also shown steady improvement.

"The 1V4 has had three weeks to learn and mesh together as a unit. It will be interesting to see how they perform -- one would expect them to be faster with the practice time," Sweeney said. "For the 3 and 4v8s, it's been interesting since we have been evaluating each boat with Big 12s in mind and setting up those boats for that competition once SIRAs is over. They've been mixed around a bit, but what we've seen is that the 4V8 is closing the gap with the 3V8 in regards to speed. So it is going to make for some interesting end of the year selections."

In all though, the improvements from the top boat to the lower boats throughout the year bodes well for the Wildcats, as they head into the latter part of their 2015 season.

"We're certainly more stable," Sweeney said. "There are not many people moving around from boat to boat, even in the lower 8s. It's not like we're playing musical chairs to find the right combination. Everything is fairly stable and everybody is getting that little bit faster."

Following this weekend's action, the Wildcats will prep for the 18th edition of the Sunflower Showdown on Wyandotte County Lake. Squaring off against in-state and conference rival KU, the Wildcats will look to make it five-straight against the Jayhawks on Saturday, May 2. Be sure to follow @kstate_gameday on Twitter under #KStateROW for updates on all competition this season.