ELBURN—Kylen Patterman is new to the University of Louisville’s rowing team, but she’s one of the most experienced rowers on the team.
The 2008 Kaneland graduate rowed for three years on a club team at Grand Valley State before graduating early with a degree in anthropology—and getting snatched up by the Louisville Cardinals.
“We had a unique opportunity to take someone who’s essentially been through the whole college rowing experience and had two years (of eligibility) left. Frequently, you can get someone with one year left, but not two,” said Derek Copeland, Louisville’s head coach.
Copeland said he expects Patterman to be in the top half of the team quickly.
“She’s had a lot of success rowing at a high level (at Grand Valley). She’s proven; we know she can handle it. She’s new to the program, but she’s not new to the practice schedule, so we think she’s going to make an impact in the top half of the team very quickly.”
The Cardinals have 44 varsity rowers this year, and the novice rowers will probably put the team over 85, Copeland said. With just three full-time coaches, Copeland said he tries to recruit people who can provide leadership on the team.
That’s a challenging task because, since few high schools have rowing teams, few rowers enter a college team with much experience, he said.
“When you recruit rowers, people haven’t rowed for more than 18 months or a couple of years, because they start late,” Copeland said. “So that’s the benefit for us, because she can help with leading other new athletes on our team.”
Patterman hadn’t planned to go to graduate school right away, but when the Cardinals started talking to her in June and offered her a two-year rowing scholarship, she scrambled to take the GRE and apply to Louisville’s political science program.
“I thought I was done (rowing) when I left Grand Valley, and all of a sudden here I am,” Patterman said. “Everything happened very quickly, and I was fortunate that everything worked out.”
It’s Patterman’s first time racing for a Division I rowing team, but she rowed for the varsity eight—a rowing team’s fastest boat—at Grand Valley, which won the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta in May with a time of 6:30.
Grand Valley’s team has won the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s national championship six years in a row, with Patterman rowing in the varsity eight in both 2012 and 2013.
“(They’re) quite serious. I refer to it as ‘super club,’” Copeland said. “The coach is very good. He replicates the DI very well, and they beat a lot of DI teams, so it’s pretty similar.”
Both of Louisville’s assistant coaches used to coach for Grand Valley, so the connection between the programs is strong, Copeland said.
“We knew the coaches (at Grand Valley), so we had inside information about her being a good fit for our team. She’s quite smart, so we knew she could come in and adjust pretty quickly to grad school,” he said.
Louisville will be racing at least four boats, each with eight rowers, this fall.
The Cardinals finished second overall in the 2013 Big East Championship last year, finishing with 129 points to slip past Syracuse’s 128 points and grab the runner-up trophy. Notre Dame won the Big East for the tenth year in a row with 151 points.
It was a good finish for the Cardinals, who have never competed in the NCAA tournament.
Copeland hopes that the team might break into the NCAA this year, as the Cardinals compete in a new conference, the American Athletic Conference, for the 2013-2014 season.
Out of the 80 Division I rowing programs, the Cardinals were ranked 20 last season—higher than any other school in the AAC—but even if the team doesn’t win their conference, they still have a shot at the NCAA tournament if they row fast enough. The winner of each of the 11 conferences gets an automatic bid to the NCAA, but a selection committee chooses the other 11 teams.
“We were top 20 all last year, and that was a significant jump for us,” Copeland said. “I would expect that trend to continue. Cracking the top 12 or 14 is a pretty big leap, but we are aiming for it.”
Patterman hasn’t been boated yet at Louisville, and the team won’t select its varsity eight until March, after seeing how rowers compete in the longer fall races.
“Right now we have more than four eights, so we keep all the boats very competitive in the fall,” he said. “We want all the boats to be the same speed in the fall so that the younger women can learn from the more experienced ones. We won’t start to split them into boats until the fall, and we won’t decide until March. But we’re very, very happy with our choice (of Patterman). We can tell we made the right one because she’s already fitting into the team.”
Patterman said she was happy to be a Cardinal.
“Honestly, it’s been awesome. The facilities here are absolutely gorgeous, and everyone’s been really nice,” Patterman said. “As a rower, I show up and try to do the best I can and do my part to make the boat go as fast as I possibly can.”