Rowing Rivalry

  • By Julie Brown
  • |
  • April 20, 2012 09:45 AM
  • |
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Less than a week ago, West Virginia University freshman rower Kelly Kramer found herself sitting poised at the starting line of the varsity eight semifinal at the Knecht Cup.

One of the nation’s premier spring regattas with approximately 70 colleges and universities in attendance, the Knecht Cup annually provides a great opportunity for teams to gauge their progress as their respective championships draw closer.

With the number of teams competing, the odds of racing against someone you know are pretty slim. So imagine Kramer’s astonishment when she looked directly over into the lane on her right and saw her sister, Kerri, a junior rower at Dayton, also sitting poised at the starting line in the exact same seat and position.

“It was crazy,” Kramer laughed. “It was a really weird coincidence. Throughout the whole race I could hear their coxswain yelling about being at my seat and using it as motivation for her team.”

Dayton ended up defeating the Mountaineers in that semifinal, crossing the line in second place with a time of 6:43.28. West Virginia ultimately placed fourth with a time of 6:44.70.

“They beat us by one and a half seconds,” Kramer said. “I have to get her back.”

She’ll have the perfect opportunity to do so on Saturday morning, when West Virginia plays host to Dayton on the Monongahela River alongside Edith Barill Park in Star City.

While the two sisters may currently find themselves participating in the same sport at the same time in the same place, it wasn’t always that way. They both took different paths to get to where they are now.

Kelly Kramer began her rowing career during her freshman year of high school, after taking part in a rowing camp hosted by the Cleveland Rowing Foundation. She felt that the sport was a good fit for her, so she continued to pursue it.

“I felt like I was better at rowing than at other sports because I wasn’t the most coordinated at other sports,” she explained. “I liked how rowing was a good workout for your entire body and I enjoyed being on the water.”

She continued to learn and improve, and by the time junior year rolled around Kramer began to receive recruiting emails from various colleges and universities, including BIG EAST foes Rutgers and Louisville. But when the time came to decide upon official visits, something about West Virginia just stuck with her.

“My first impression of the school and the surrounding area was that everyone was so nice,” she said. “I could really picture myself here on campus. I loved the coaching staff and the girls on the team and when I toured the Coliseum I met Paul (Downey) our academic advisor and I felt more secure. I knew that West Virginia had a good engineering program and that I would be able to balance my academics with rowing. The coaches here encouraged me and supported me in whatever I decided to major in and I knew I would have the academic support.”

As for Kelly's sister, Kerri, she didn’t start rowing until she arrived at Dayton. An outstanding high school athlete in both basketball and softball, she originally planned on becoming a collegiate basketball player.

But the school that had orginially recruited her for basketball didn’t have her major, mechanical engineering, so she made the decision to attend Dayton instead.

Although she wasn’t recruited to play basketball at Dayton, Kerri still wanted to continue competing in college. So she decided to try out for the rowing team when the opportunity presented itself.

“She’s very athletic in general so she decided to try out for the rowing team and I gave her a little nudge,” grinned Kramer. “It’s very different from anything she’s done, but she really liked it and stuck with it.”

Kramer says that while they use each other’s times for motivation, they’re not too competitive.

“We compare our erg scores and I make that my motivation to get to where she is or beat her so I can tell her,” she said. “We’re not super competitive, but I think it will be interesting to race against her again because I don’t get to do that a lot.”

After Saturday’s race, the Mountaineers have just two regattas remaining during the 2012 spring season. The team travels to Iowa on Saturday, April 28 to compete against the Hawkeyes along with Notre Dame, Rutgers and Syracuse. Following that race, the team will focus its sole concentration on the 2012 BIG EAST Championships, which will be held on Sunday, May 13.

The year has gone by fast for Kramer, who can now look back upon the season and reflect upon how she’s grown.

“Coming into the program I was really nervous,” she admitted. “I worked out and stayed in good condition over the summer but I’d never rowed on the college level so I was nervous about what to expect. I feel like I’ve completely changed throughout the year. I feel that I’ve improved a lot and my rowing technique has improved a lot.

“I just kept telling myself to try my best and never give up. I wanted to improve in all aspects including my technique on the water and my erg times and I feel that I’ve done a combination of the two.”

And although this was just her first year on the team, she can see how the Mountaineers have improved as a whole as well.

“Last weekend was one of the first times we’ve been able to race in the semifinals with all of our boats,” she ended. “That’s only happened three times in ten appearances for us at that particular regatta. That shows progress in itself. I think overall as a team we’re gaining speed and improving every year.”