Byrd, Kansas Rowing Prepare for Sunflower Showdown

LAWRENCE, Kan. – As the University of Kansas rowing program prepares for its annual Sunflower Showdown this weekend against Kansas State, junior Kristen Byrd reflects on the path that led her to the heart of Jayhawk Nation.

Originally a native of Franklin, Tenn., Byrd moved to Easton, Penn., as a sophomore, where she spent the remainder of her high school career. Although she was sad at first about the move, she took comfort in knowing she could continue her career on the softball diamond.

“I played softball for over 13 years,” Byrd said. “It was the sport that I dedicated the most time to, and it was the one sport I was truly passionate about.”

Prior to graduating from Easton Area High School, Byrd was weighing her options as to where she would attend college. She considered schools such as the University of North Carolina, Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee. Returning to school in Knoxville, a mere three-hour drive from her hometown, was appealing to her, yet Byrd was determined to branch out and move somewhere outside of her comfort zone.

The University of Kansas became a serious option when Byrd received an unexpected nudge from her godfather, who also calls KU has alma mater. His name is Gale Sayers.

Sayers, a two-time All-American running back for the Jayhawks (1963-64), deserves some credit for delivering Byrd to Lawrence. After all, he provided it to her as a legitimate option. An NFL Hall-of-Fame player for the Chicago Bears (1965-71), Sayers became the Director of Fundraising for special projects for Kansas Athletics in 2009 and convinced his goddaughter to visit the campus one year later.

“We recruited her to come to Kansas and she decided to come,” Sayers said. “She stayed with us when she arrived in Lawrence. When she got there, she fell in love with Kansas and the university. She has done a great job since she has been at KU. She originally wanted to run track, but decided to go out for rowing and she has done a great job ever since.”

Although she is now a veteran rower, Byrd recognizes the fact that it hasn’t always come easy for her. The time commitment, the energy expended and the passion it takes to become a successful student-athlete can be overwhelming at times.

“When people look back on my time at KU, I want my legacy to be about how far I have come,” Byrd said. “I have become an excellent student, and I demonstrated the ability to walk-on to a sport unfamiliar to me and achieve success as a student-athlete. I believe my story could set an example for other students as to what can be accomplished with the right commitment, dedication and focus.”

That commitment, dedication and focus will be put to the test on Saturday when in-state rival Kansas State makes the extended trip down I-70 to the Wyandotte County Lake in Kansas City, Kan., for the 2014 edition of the Sunflower Showdown.

The Wildcats claimed victory over the Jayhawks in 2013 by a narrow margin, and the Jayhawks are looking to reclaim bragging rights in the Sunflower State.

“The rivalry with K-State is something that is not taken lightly at the university,” Byrd said. “When this showdown comes around every year, our team understands and expects to beat K-State. This event allows us to showcase our skills and try to prove that we are the fastest Kansas rowing team.”

The Sunflower Showdown is a pivotal point in the racing season for the Jayhawks, but it represents just another step along the way to the team’s main objective. KU has consistently ascended in the standings of the Big 12 and Conference USA over the past few seasons. In 2014, the team is looking to make a run at both conference championships.

“We are expecting to go extremely far this season,” Byrd said. “Our team last year was strong, but we are even stronger this year. We expect to place even higher in Conference USA in the spring, and possibly beat even beat last year’s winning times.”

Their journey continues on Saturday, March 29, beginning at 10 a.m. Other teams competing are Drake and Southern Methodist University (SMU).

The presentation of the Sunflower Showdown trophy will immediately follow the morning session. After the completion of the afternoon session, the Jayhawks will begin their Senior Day presentation.

MORNING SESSION: 10 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
        10:00 a.m.                    Varsity Four                             SMU / Drake
            10:15 a.m.                   Novice Four                            KU / SMU
            10:30 a.m.                   First Varsity Eight                   SMU / Drake
            10:45 a.m.                   Second Varsity Eight              Drake / SMU
            11:00 a.m.                   Fourth Varsity Eight                KU / KSU
            11:15 a.m.                   Third Varsity Eight                  KSU / KU
            11:30 a.m.                   Second Varsity Four              KU / KSU
            11:45 a.m.                   First Varsity Four                    KSU / KU
            12:00 p.m.                   Second Varsity Eight              KU / KSU
            12:15 p.m.                   First Varsity Eight                   KSU / KU

  • Sunflower Showdown Trophy Presentation to immediately follow conclusion of First Varsity Eight race between Kansas and Kansas State.
  • Break for lunch prior to beginning afternoon session at 2 p.m.

AFTERNOON SESSION: 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
First-place boats in each race from the morning session will face each other in the afternoon session. The second-place finishers from the morning session will compete against one another as well.
            2:00 p.m.                     Novice Four                           SMU
            2:12 p.m.                     First/Second Varsity Four     Drake / KSU / KU
            2:24 p.m.                     First/Second Varsity Four     SMU / KU / KSU
            2:36 p.m.                     Third/Fourth Varsity Eight      KU / KU / KSU / KSU
            2:48 p.m.                     Second Varsity Eight             SMU / Competitors determined by finishes in the AM session
            3:00 p.m.                     Second Varsity Eight             Drake / Competitors determined by finishes in the AM session         
            3:12 p.m.                     First Varsity Eight                  SMU / Competitors determined by finishes in the AM session           
            3:26 p.m.                     First Varsity Eight                  Drake / Competitors determined by finishes in the AM session                                  

Results will be posted on Twitter @ku_rowing with full coverage at following the competition.
Parking will be $5 per car.
Coming from I-70 East or West:
I-70 to 435 North (Exit 411)
Exit 18 – Wolcott Exit (N. 93rd St.)
Take a right
When the road (N. 93rd St.) goes into a “y” formation, go straight (to the left)
Follow to stop sign and you will be at the regatta parking area
Coming from Kansas City International Airport:
Leaving airport go North on 29, take Exit 17 (435 South) Topeka
Exit 18 – Wolcott Exit (N. 93rd St.)
Take a right
When the road (N. 93rd St.) goes into a “y” formation, go straight (to the left)
Follow to stop sign and you will be at the regatta parking area
Coming from the South:
I-35 North to Exit 222B (435West)
Exit 18 – Wolcott Exit (N. 93rd St.)
Take a right
When the road (N. 93rd St.) goes into a “y” formation, go straight (to the left)
Follow to stop sign and you will be at the regatta parking area

Following the competition, KU will recognize the 2014 seniors which include Meghan Cahill, Catherine Clements, Caitlyn Decker, Kelsie Fiss, Carly Iverson, Tearson ‘Jade’ Lambkins, Amanda Lewis, Abbey Lozenski, Jessica Miller, Cara Murray, Elizabeth Scherer, Kaylee Sextro, Alexandra Torquemada and Emma Umbarger.

“This has been a strong senior class, head coach Rob Catloth said. “This is the first class we recruited since the addition of the boathouse. The boathouse has helped with the development of the program. The level of competition has improved each year, and it has been special seeing what this class has accomplished over their years with the program.” The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.