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Iowa rowing showing persistence, not desperation

BY CONRAD SWANSON | AUGUST 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Dozens of rowing machines are lined up facing a mirrored wall in the Beckwith Boathouse. Each machine is occupied by a different woman; all, however, are wearing Hawkeye colors, and all are damp with sweat. Behind them stand more rowers, these ones calling cadence and motivating their teammates to move faster and in unison.

This is the future of the Iowa rowing team, a squad that has been recruiting more fervently in the past few weeks than in past years.

The Hawkeye coaches have been actively involved in Welcome Week activities, doing whatever they can to get the word out about their sport. First-year assistant coach Courtney Valerious said the team’s tenacity in recruiting, however, is not to be confused with desperation.

“We’re persistent, not desperate,” she said. “It’s all about being the next Big Ten champion. Each developing freshman class needs to be better than the last.”

Keeping in tune with that persistence, the rowing team has sent each full-time female Iowa student an email inviting her to join the squad. Valerious said even if a woman doesn’t have any rowing experience, the coaches are looking more for a particular personality type more than anything else.

The ideal Hawkeye is “that individual who wants to work like a dog and progress,” she said.

Karen Rigsby, the open-weight recruiting coordinator for Wisconsin, agreed that a team doesn’t require rowing experience nearly as much as a particular attitude. She said that many of her team’s newer additions are walk-on athletes.

“We’re looking for someone who’s driven, persistent, and disciplined,” she said.

Rigsby uses many of the same recruiting techniques as the coaches at Iowa — she also sent emails to all-full time female students and spoke to as many new faces as possible.

“We try to position ourselves strategically to talk to as many freshmen as possible,” she said.

Aside from the personality type, the athlete’s body type matters to the coaches as well. Rigsby says she looks for a tall frame with strong legs, an active or fit figure, and possibly an athletic background. A coxswain, on the other hand — the athlete who calls out cadence to the rowers and steers the boat — preferably has a small frame and is light.

Iowa assistant coach Carrie Callen acknowledged her team has had to change its recruiting style to be more aggressive and reach out to more potential athletes.

“We’ve definitely made a point to step up our game, take a different approach, and give a better effort,” she said. “It’s paying off already, and we’ve got some large numbers [of potential recruits].”

The coaches know that the initial number of walk-ons doesn’t usually represent the final number who stick with the sport. Both Callen and Rigsby have said they are looking at approximately 80 walk-ons, but both know that number will drop as soon as some women see the intense and disciplined nature of the sport.

Rigsby estimated that of the initial group of walk-ons, usually around 80 or 90 women, approximately 50 of them will remain by February or March.

For the time being, however, the team will continue practicing. This early in the season, the coaches are still gauging the athletes, the walk-ons, and the freshmen recruited for their rowing experience.

“[Wednesday] is the first practice,” Callen said. “It helps us know what we need to work on right away.”


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