Catloth, Jayhawks Ready for SMU

LAWRENCE, Kan.– Rob Catloth, Kansas rowing. The two go hand – in – hand considering both are celebrating their 20th anniversary this season. The only head coach in program history, Catloth has led the Jayhawks to several NCAA Regional appearances, had a state of the art boathouse built and even served as a Team USA coach in 2000, but few know that this career was never really in the sights of Catloth growing up.

“I really just fell into rowing when I came to KU for my undergraduate degree,” the Lawrence, Kansas native explained with a smile. “I wanted to walk on to the KU track team, but I found a guy in one of my classes who was a grad student and had rowed at Kansas State. One of the guys he had rowed with just started to coach the club team here. He told me that I was tall so I should go out and try it, and it would be a good way to get in shape for track. I went out, tried it and never went back to track. I stayed in rowing.”

The switch from track to rowing paid off in dividends for not only Catloth, but Kansas as well. The Jayhawks have been competitive on the water since he was named the inaugural head coach in 1995. Catloth has coached his team to numerous milestones in the program’s history, including the team’s first national ranking ,an intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship and 10 appearances in the NCAA Regional Championships (2000,’01,’02,’03,’05,’06,’07,’08,’09,’10.) The Kansas head coach has also seen several of his rowers receive the prestigious Big 12 Prentice Gault Postgraduate Scholarship, and Risa Petty was name a COSIDA Academic All-American in 2000.

As Kansas rowing has grown, so has the sport in general. More and more programs across the country are introducing rowing as a varsity sport in Division I athletics, making the field stronger and faster each year. One thing Catloth acknowledged that’s been consistent is the support from Lawrence for his rowing program.

“I think per the 20 years we have just had better support from athletics each and every year and the state of rowing has changed nationally,” Catloth said. “There used to be a little over 40 Division I programs, now there are a little over 80 so it has grown. The speed and level that women are rowing across the country is at a really high level right now. You have to row really fast now to even be in the mix so there is a lot of pressure to keep finding better athletes and just go faster every year because everybody is fast now. Everybody.”

One of the biggest accomplishments in Catloth’s career at KU was the approval of the Kansas Boathouse in 2009. Built to withstand a flood event up to eight feet above the lower floor level, the 16,000 square foot facility serves the varsity rowing team as well as the KU club team. The highlight of the Boathouse is the team room. The multi-functional 2,000 square foot space provides the team a place to congregate and build team comradery, certainly helpful in recruiting the caliber of student-athletes Catloth refers to.

Since the boathouse was built, Kansas has now been able to host the Jayhawk Jamboree in the fall on the Kansas River. During the 2013 and 2014 fall seasons, over 2,000 supporters of Jayhawk nation packed the banks of the Kaw to cheer on their KU athletes, creating a buzz around Lawrence about their rowing team.

“The Boathouse was a key point for our program and for us to even compete in the conference, as well as, regionally and nationally,” Catloth explained. “Without that we would be in a bad place right now, but it has really helped recruiting and team atmosphere. Across the board it has really helped. It’s in the community, but part of the university so it has helped with every facet of building, competing and developing as a program.”

Though the wins have piled up during his 20-year stint with Kansas, it’s not those accomplishments Catloth is most proud of. This season Catloth hosted an alumni row in which many of his former student-athletes came back to celebrate old memories and get back on the water. For Catloth, moments like those are what make the job great.

“What I will remember most is just the student-athletes I have been able to work with and get to know over the years,” Catloth said beaming. “It has been a great group of young women who are growing up, having families, careers and really doing some amazing things. It is the best part of coaching. You don’t really remember the races, it’s more the people and what these women have become going back to the first ones who graduated 22 years ago to the ones who just graduated.”

One of his former athletes holds a pretty special place in his heart. His daughter Olivia was a member of the KU rowing team from 2009-2013 as a coxswain. Under her father’s tutelage, the younger Catloth shined on the water and was named Nikia Rosenberger Coxswain of the Year her senior season. Those four years are likely to be something neither Catloth forgets.

“It was a lot of fun and she did a really good job,” the elder Catloth said proudly. “When you coach a coach’s kid, they come with a different perspective than others because they’ve grown up around the sport. They approach it from a little different perspective and don’t really have a fear of it and really understand how things work. As Olivia developed as a coxswain that made it pretty easy because there were a lot of things she already knew how to do from just growing up around it. It was also really fun to watch her compete at a really high level.”

This season the Jayhawks are off to a hot start winning several races at the Cardinal Invitational and had an impressive outing at the scrimmage against Drake. KU will be back in action this weekend as they travel to SMU to face off against the Mustangs on April 4 starting at 9 a.m. Check back with KUAthletics periodically to follow along as Catloth and his Jayhawks look to continue making memories. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.