Wildcats Look Forward to Sunflower Showdown
Last weekend, the Wildcats traveled to Austin, Texas, for the Longhorn Invitational and came home with seven victories including three over 19th-ranked Oklahoma, the reigning Big 12 Champion.
"It definitely is one of the best starts we've had, which is always nice," said head coach Patrick Sweeney. "I think it was more of a belief thing. They now believe in themselves more as a team. They know they can beat these people. It's not like if someone's ranked they can never get close to them anymore. We've always been competitive, but we we're always chasing. This time, it's like we can actually run with them. So I think if the whole team starts believing in themselves more, we can go even faster."
Sweeney credits his team's quick, successful start to the impact of the brand-new, state-of-the-art Intercollegiate Rowing Center. While nothing beats getting out on the water, having two indoor tanks to train on while frozen Tuttle Creek Lake thaws has made a world of difference for the Wildcats.
"The IRC, obviously, made a big difference in how we could continue with the high level of training," explained Sweeney. "We were able to train at a higher level than we were ever able to before. The tank is not the same as the boat, but the combination of the tank and the ergs, we could work enough that when we got back on the water we held a high level. When we got back in the water, we were able to get moving quicker."
Practices are now harder, and training can be more competitive. In this "new era" of K-State Rowing, it is the team's hard work and newfound confidence that continues to drive it forward.
That hard work surged K-State's 2nd Varsity 8 boat to earn this week's Big 12 Boat of the Week honors for its win over Oklahoma and has given the team added confidence going into today's matchup with Kansas.
"I think it gave us a lot of confidence," sophomore Madi Haney said about last weekend's win. "I don't think many of us, if any of us, expected to beat Oklahoma, so to come off that solid against them, it really gave us confidence and that carries over to this weekend. All of us are ready to show KU the work we've put in this year."
The Wildcats are riding a three-year winning streak against the Jayhawks in the annual Sunflower Showdown and are not willing to back down any time soon. With nearly 90 percent of the roster hailing from the state of Kansas, the Sunflower Showdown is something quite familiar to K-State's young roster.
"It's the first time I've ever competed against KU in anything for myself," freshman Noelle Dykmann of Lenexa, Kan., explained. "Today at practice they had the Cup sitting out, and it's in our teams hands where that goes. So hopefully we'll still get to keep it for next year. It had all the dates on it, all the times that we'd won it, and I'd hate to mess that up."
This year's senior class, including coxswain Hillary Schartz of Claflin, Kan., has never lost to Kansas.
"I grew up in a K-State family and have always been a die-hard K-State fan," began Schartz. "We always look at racing KU as a good opportunity so we can represent our school. It's obviously a huge rivalry, K-State and KU, so being able to be a part of that at a collegiate level has been really cool. It's really intense. We know they're good, we know they're going to be quick, but I think it helps get our heads in the right place before the race, to get really pumped up and go for it to continue keep the sweep."
Sweeney said he thinks having a roster so full of girls from Kansas gives his team the edge when it comes to the Sunflower Showdown. The Wildcats have 41 Kansas natives on their roster as opposed to the Jayhawks' 28.
"This race is a weird one, the KU and K-State one is always a weird one," laughed Sweeney. "For the past two years, we probably shouldn't have won it. They have good athletes there, in my opinion. I always went into it thinking that we were the underdog, but we've always done well. The girls have always lifted up. This year, they've got a good team down there and they've been doing well. But you never know, it's that sort of in-state rivalry, some people get up for it, some people don't."
While K-State has, traditionally, competed well against Kansas, the past is the past and it's time for the Wildcats to, once again, prove their hard work is paying off.
And what better place to do that then the Sunflower Showdown in front of friends and family?
"I think that this race is probably my favorite race," Schartz said. "When we get to race in Kansas City, it gives our friends and families a good opportunity to come and see what we do because they don't always get to witness it. There is a large fan base there, which is really cool because it's not something that we usually have. That drives our motivation of wanting to beat KU too - it's having our friends and family there cheering for us and getting to experience what we do."
Today's races begin at 11 a.m., and will take place at Wyandotte County Lake in Kansas City, Kan.