A Comeback Beyond Compare

  • By Tiffany Doolittle
  • |
  • May 13, 2011 03:02 PM
  • |
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - West Virginia University’s rowing program is continuously developing under the direction of head coach Jimmy King, as are the student-athletes who put their time and effort into both their personal growth and the progress of the team.

As an experienced rower, a dedicated student and a mentor to her teammates, Kate Brownson has been a key factor in helping a large, diverse group of athletes to come together as a team.

“Coach King taught me how to row for my team, be more dependable and work as a unit,” Brownson admitted. “He also taught me to be more independent and to push myself to get better.”

The Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native started rowing in middle school and continued to row all four of her years at Spackenkill High School and throughout her time here at WVU.

“I’ve improved a lot since I came to WVU in 2006,” explained the redshirt senior. “I’ve matured and I’ve learned to row with multiple different techniques. Every coach teaches you different techniques, so working with my coaches has opened my eyes to different ways of rowing and how to work more effectively.”

Brownson started rowing on the Varsity 8+ boat as a freshman, and continued to row with the Varsity squad during her sophomore year. Not only did she show great strides in her performance throughout the season, but she contributed to several memorable finishes, including a silver medal victory against Dayton and Duquesne.

In the summer of 2008, a devastating injury put a halt to Brownson’s progress and eliminated her ability to compete. She was redshirted for the 2008-2009 season to give her body time to recover, without having the guarantee of a full recovery.

With unparalleled perseverance and a positive mindset, Brownson managed to rehabilitate her way back into the Varsity 8+ boat the following year, where she assisted her boat in winning a title at the second-annual Head of the Mon, along with a bronze medal at the Head of the Ohio. She also contributed to the success of the Varsity 4+ boat, where she earned bronze medals at the Head of the Occoquan and the 2010 BIG EAST Championships.

The comeback not only made her stronger as a rower, but drastically increased her dedication to her team. Her coaches and teammates recognized her commitment to the squad, and they, in return, voted her as the team captain for her final year as a Mountaineer.

“Being voted captain by your team means so much more than being chosen by your coach,” Brownson said, still honored. “It’s awesome to have your team behind you enough to nominate you to lead them and it’s made me a stronger person, because now, I’m rowing for myself and my team.”

Brownson went on to explain how captains chosen by the coaching staff could sometimes be in disagreement with the team’s choice. She felt that getting nominated by her team made the pressure of captain even higher, because she had an entire team that could be let down if she didn’t live up to the expectations.

“I had to know what the team needed and always put its needs before mine,” she acknowledged. “I started to listen to the team more, so that the girls could come to me with any problems and we’d fix them together. Being liked and approachable is something that is necessary in a team captain, because your team respects you and stands by you.”

Brownson believes that her team and her boat have developed a bond and sense of unity throughout the season, and it showed in several races, including the 2011 BIG EAST Championships.

Despite dropping a spot in standings from last year, several of the boats improved in other areas of racing. Brownson’s Varsity 8+ boat of Jenelle Spencer, Hilary Meale, Rachelle Purych, Rachel Viglianco, Shannon Gribbons, Karen Verwey, Courtney Schrand and coxswain Mallory Fisher made it to the Grand Finals for the first time, and finished in sixth place with a time of 7:01.94.

“We were really excited to get into the Grand Finals,” she smiled. “Our eight boat was struggling to be effective, to move well together and to make it past the semis. We did it and it led us to our first finals together as an eight boat, and it felt awesome.”

Brownson has seen consistency within her boat, drastic improvements from her teammates and an attitude change that has pushed the team forward since the beginning of the season.

“We realize that we can’t get hung up on not doing well in a race, but we just have to work off of it to make the next race better,” Brownson recognized. “We’re happy with the progress that we made at BIG EAST, but we’re even happier that we know what to work on to make Dad Vail even more successful.”

As the end of the season approaches, Brownson is focusing on her last race as a Mountaineer and her future in the sport that she has dedicated the last ten years to mastering.

“I can’t ever see myself without rowing being a part of my life,” concluded the leader, mentor and veteran of WVU’s rowing team. “I plan on competing in the Canadian Henley this August, then I’m not sure where I’ll end up after that. I hope to work with other coaches and row in a master’s program somewhere, but all I know for sure is that rowing will still be in my life wherever I go after graduating.”