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Goessel athlete will try new sport at KSU

Staff writer

The recruiting process for college basketball, football, and baseball is relatively straightforward.

While genetic attributes such as speed and height are important factors for any sport, recruiters watch the athletes play the specific game. The best way to gauge a basketball player’s ability is to watch the player in a game.

The process for rowing is a little different.

Goessel High School basketball player and golfer Justine Plenert learned firsthand what rowing recruiting is about. Plenert said Kansas State University has been contacting her since her junior year.

“I have absolutely no experience in a boat,” Plenert said.

Kansas State University and the University of Kansas have women’s rowing teams. The state of Kansas has only a few high school rowing programs, programs Kansas State Rowing Coach Patrick Sweeney admits are lacking in the tradition and polish of programs on the East and West coast.

A rowing coach has a few different options for finding rowers. Sweeney said that some teams recruit experienced rowers in the United States. Ivy League schools, Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Pacific 10 Conference dominate these recruits, having a considerable home-field advantage.

Sweeney also said that some programs go out of the country to find adept rowers.

K-State takes a different tact.

“Many kids just don’t get a chance to go to a division I school,” Sweeney said. “We give them a second chance to become a division I athlete.”

The Wildcats targeted Plenert because of her work on the Goessel basketball team and her height; Plenert is 6 feet tall.

“Rowing is a leverage sport,” Sweeney said. “The taller the athlete the better.”

Plenert sealed an athletic scholarship — which covers a percentage of her tuition — with her interest in the program when she visited the team in Manhattan.

“Any athlete who has height and dedication,” KSU Assistant Coach Grace Riekenberg said of what the staff looks for in a good rower. “If they want to work for it, we’ll teach them the skills and techniques.”

Riekenberg recruited Plenert and competed as a Wildcat rower. She is originally from New Mexico, but had family in Kansas. Riekenberg, like Plenert and the vast majority of KSU rowers, had no rowing experience before heading to Manhattan.

“In the end it is a demanding sport, you have to not be afraid of working hard,” Riekenberg said. “It’s also a lot of fun. Obviously, I’m addicted to it.”

Plenert said the KSU coaching staff plans to redshirt Plenert her freshman year. A redshirt year, which does not count against Plenert’s eligibility, is a year where she will not participate in competition, but will train with the team.

Plenert will join a team of approximately 80 athletes. A rower’s dedication is tested in a competition for rowing spots on such a large team.

“You just know what you’re there to do and do your job,” Rieckenberg said of the competition.

Sweeney is an accomplished rowing coach. Originally from England, he has coached with the English and Belgian Olympic teams and won a gold and bronze medal as a coach. He also won four national championships with the University of California as a coach.

“We’ve geared the program to teach it rather than bringing in 10 Germans,” Sweeney said. “We can turn them around in a couple of years and have them being competitive.”

But, he also said that his rowers will have to work hard.

“It comes down to the athletes themselves wanting to do it,” he said. “I think they know they have to work hard.”

Despite going into a new sport, Plenert has a careful confidence about joining the rowing team.

“I think I should be good,” she said.

Ron and Nancy Plenert of Goessel are her parents.

Last modified June 10, 2010

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