MANHATTAN, Kan. – The pivotal stretch for the Kansas State women’s rowing team begins on Saturday (May 1), as the Wildcats renew their rivalry with Kansas in the Dillons Sunflower Showdown at Wyandotte County Lake in Kansas City, Kansas. The first of the four races in the rivalry matchup will begin at 8:30 a.m., CT.
The meet is free and open to the public with fans viewing the races from the Wyandotte County Lake Shelter 8 location. Due to COVID-19 protocols, fans will need to wear face masks covering their nose and mouth and maintain six-feet of social distancing. There is a $5 charge for parking.
The First Varsity Eight will kick things off at 8:30 a.m., CT on Saturday morning. It will be followed by the Second Varsity Eight at 8:45 a.m., CT, the First Varsity Four at 9 a.m., CT and the Second Varsity Four at 9:15 a.m., CT. The trophy presentation will be immediately following at 9:30 a.m., CT.
Fans can follow live updates on @KStateROW throughout the day.
The rivalry matchup will be the final regular-season race before concluding the season at the Big 12 Championships on Sunday, May 16 at Decker Lake in Austin, Texas.
The two longtime rivals will race head-to-head in the Sunflower Showdown for the first time since 2019 when K-State completed a perfect showing by scoring all 22 points to post a second consecutive win over Kansas at Wyandotte County Lake. Heading into Saturday, the Wildcats have won the Sunflower Showdown in six of the last nine years, including the sweep in 2019 – a first in the rivalry since 2012.
“To be honest, I don't think about past results,” said head coach Pat Sweeney. “Every year is a new year. Every race is a new race. It’s best to move on to the next one. We’re happy we had that success, but that really doesn’t make any difference this weekend.”
K-State has competed against Kansas already this season in a multiple-team field at the Sunshine State Invitational in Sarasota, Florida on April 2-3. The Jayhawks placed higher in three of the four races, including a silver medal finish in the Second Varsity Eight and a bronze medal finish in the First Varsity Eight races. However, the Wildcats finished ahead by more than 22 seconds in the First Varsity Four and were close in the Second Varsity Four.
“All the results this year have been all over the place with the weather, COVID-19 and athletes missing from (racing) lineups, so it's really difficult to say what's going to happen on Saturday,” said Sweeney. “I think it's going to be close. If you went on the results from the races in Florida, they'll beat us. But it's not Florida. That’s been four or five weeks ago. I think we're in a good spot. We seem to be faster than we were in Florida.”
Kansas had a strong showing in its last outing at Iowa on April 24, as the Jayhawks never finished outside the top-4 against a competitive field that included Minnesota (No. 16), Wisconsin (tied for No. 18), Iowa (tied for No. 18) and Drake, including a bronze finish in the Second Varsity Four.
The Sunflower Showdown will be K-State’s fourth race of the season and the first since the Tulsa Triangular on April 3. The Wildcats have spent the last three weeks training for their two biggest races of the season, which cumulates with the Big 12 Championship on Sunday, May 16.
A member of the First Varsity Eight – junior Taylor Hartman – said the Wildcats have continued to train since their last race nearly a month ago in Tulsa with more of the focus in the last week on the small things that could be the difference between winning and losing the Showdown especially in what is expected to be a close set of races.
“Last week, we went pretty hard,” said Hartman. “We usually taper off right before a race. So last week, we had a lot of really, hard long workouts. And this week, we usually come off a little bit, start doing race prep. We have been working on pieces, doing our race rate and finish up and plan out primaries, tweak little things and get ready.
“We raced them earlier in the season. We beat them in our first race and then they beat us the second one. I think it'll be a really close race. Hopefully, we'll get ahead of them. But realistically, I think the last 500 are going to be the most intense part of the race, they usually blast off the last 500 and take it pretty fast. I think our boat is willing to fight and push it.”
Senior Natasha Johnson, who helped clinch the Sunflower Showdown in 2019 as a member of the Second Varsity Eight, said there is more excitement than pressure for this year’s races and that the squad as a whole is just happy to be able to compete again after the event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
“I mean, obviously there's the rivalry that has been going on forever, but it's one of our favorites to go to especially since we've had the Cup the last two years. It was really upsetting not to be able to compete last season. We are just excited about the opportunity to race them again.
“My boat, in particular, is pretty young. Only one other girl has ever raced in the event before, so it’s just a really young boat and I’m trying to help them as much as I can.”
For redshirt freshman coxswain Kelsey Ladlie, this will be her first experience in the Sunflower Showdown, but it’s one that is familiar for her growing up in Troy, Missouri as well as many of her teammates. The roster lists 41 rowers from either Kansas or Missouri, including 32 from the Sunflower State.
“We're always anxious to compete against our rivals,” said Ladlie. “I know for a lot of us, this rivalry has been built since we were young. I know for me; I grew up with a Mizzou fan. My dad's a Mizzou grad. So, it was awesome when I came here, to realize there was the same level of competitiveness for KU as I had growing up, and I know that it goes the same for a lot of the girls on my team. It's been a while since we've had a race, just us. And I know, we're all like itching to go out there and show them what we got.”
Ladlie said there is a standard here of winning the Sunflower Showdown and the team is determined to uphold that standard on Saturday.
“We’ve got something to prove to hold onto the Cup,” said Ladlie. “Let’s keep the momentum going. This is our state, we want to hold on to that. And we're just excited to go out there and prove it.”
A full recap of Saturday’s race will be made available on kstatesports.com following the races.
For the latest on K-State Rowing, follow @kstatesports and @KStateROW on Twitter or on the team’s Facebook page.