K-State Aims to Excel in Oak Ridge

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- K-State Women's Rowing travels to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the final time this season to compete in the Big 12 Championship on May 16-17. Held on Melton Hill Lake, the Wildcats will look to build off last season's program-best second-place finish, facing off against conference foes in five scored races -- 1st Varsity 8, 2nd Varsity 8, 3rd Varsity 8, 1st Varsity 4, 2nd Varsity 4.

The Wildcats, who also competed in Oak Ridge for SIRAs this past April, are expected to kick off action this Saturday afternoon with preliminary heat races, starting at 2 p.m. CT. Grand and Petite Finals will then take place the following morning with the award ceremony expected to wrap up the weekend's festivities around 11:15 a.m. CT.

Head coach Patrick Sweeney said he expects each Wildcat boat this weekend to compete not only for a spot in Sunday's Grand Finals, but challenge for a medal as well.

"The goal we have had since the beginning of the season is to have every boat in position to medal if it performs to its potential," Sweeney said. "That's what our aim should be and I think this season has gone well enough that all of our boats racing this weekend should be aiming for that goal and are in a position to accomplish it. Whether or not each boat succeeds is up to the athletes now. They're all in a good position to medal, they just have to race to their potential."

With former Conference USA opponents Alabama, Old Dominion and Tennessee increasing the field from five schools to eight this season, the Wildcats face a much improved slate of opponents from last season's Big 12 Championship. In addition to the schools above, the defending Big 12 champion Sooners, nationally ranked Texas (No. 11), as well as the aforementioned Volunteers, who were last season's runner-up in the Conference USA Championship, are all expected to present quality competition at the top for K-State.

For Sweeney, even with the quality of competition moving up a couple levels, he said this team's continued growth throughout the season comes with expectations to succeed at the conference level.

"It's fair for us to expect that we should be able to do more than just qualify for the finals this weekend. With where the athletes are at in terms of continuing to improve in training, they should go into competition expecting to not only qualify for the Grand Finals, but challenge for a medal," Sweeney said. "The team as a whole throughout the season, we've been moving towards that mindset. The athletes we're bringing in right from the start, training in the [Intercollegiate Rowing Center], we're pushing them earlier and getting them better and fitter from the beginning. We have no excuses why we shouldn't continue to elevate."

Sweeney added the team's upperclassmen, led by senior co-captains Meggie Murray and Ally Franken, have played a major role in advancing a team only two year's removed from placing fifth at Big 12s in 2013 to the level they are now.

"Our upperclassmen that had been with us when we were training in Ahearn, they have fed off this growth as a team. They all know where we have come from and have seen the shift -- there is a marked change of `we should be doing this, we should be doing better'," Sweeney said. "And the big part is that we can do better. The athletes know that if they commit themselves, they will get better results and be competitive against tougher competition."

As for this weekend's line-ups, aside from a minor change in seating on the 1V8 and a switch in personnel on the 3V8, the Wildcats will be rolling with the same boatings from the Sunflower Showdown earlier this May. According to Sweeney, the last challenge will be the athletes handling both the workload on the water and in the classroom with finals taking place this week.  

"I think they've done a good job of progressing throughout the season as we have planned," Sweeney said. "They've handled everything well, whether it's the changes we made mid-season with some of the boats and so forth, they've made it all seem to work. The last hurdle we have, they're physically in good shape and look good technically, is getting through finals week.

"They've done a good job of handling the stress so far this week," continued Sweeney on a roster that most recently placed a conference-leading 32 athletes on the Academic All-Big 12 Team. "As coaches, that's just one of the balancing acts we have to maintain without overextending them in either area. But ensuring they can focus on both academics and athletes separately is definitely on our minds when preparing them for a competition like Big 12s. Until we actually get on the road, and get [to Tennessee] and on the water, that's when we'll really be able to dial in for this weekend. They are in good shape to perform well, and that's across the board, it's just up to them to get re-focused."

Further information on this weekend's conference championship, including a full race schedule and a link to live results, can be found by visiting the regatta central page at www.Big12Sports.com, while live K-State updates will be provided via Twitter at @kstate_gameday under #KStateROW on both race days.