Brittany is the Key to this Year's Rowing Squad

Sept. 27, 2007

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 2, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2007-08 athletics year at the UI. will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa rowing team could gain ground in Big Ten action this season as it looks for the right key to lead the Hawkeyes to victory. That leader is senior Brittany Keyes.

Keyes, an athletic training major, is a native of Stillman Valley, Ill., and she came to the UI with no previous rowing experience. She did however come to Iowa with athletic experience as she excelled in both basketball and soccer at Stillman Valley High School. In basketball and soccer she was an all-conference selection and as a senior was named the team’s soccer MVP as well.

The UI was the perfect fit for Keyes, who was looking for a school that excelled in her area of academic interest. Keyes has twice been named academic All-Big Ten and has made multiple mentions on the UI Dean’s List.

“I chose Iowa because it had a solid athletic training program which was my intended major,” Keyes said. “Iowa has a large campus with a small-town feel, so it wasn’t too overwhelming and it just felt like the school for me.”

In rowing, Keyes is under the guidance of head coach Mandi Kowal, who is in her 14th season at Iowa. Kowal has a long and distinguished coaching career that includes several top 20 appearances and in 2001 she led the Hawkeyes to their first-ever team appearance at the NCAA Championships, where they finished ninth. Kowal attended the University of Wisconsin where she had a successful rowing career before coaching the Wisconsin novice team for seven years.

Keyes will be looked at to fill a big role as one of the Hawkeye leaders. Like most athletes at the Division I level, Keyes has trouble finding time to do everything she wants, but she works hard to make rowing and school a top priority.

“Brittany is one of our seniors and she has been training really hard over the summer,” Kowal said. “I think she has an incredible work ethic and a great character. Her teammates really respect her for that.”

“Brittany is one of our seniors and she has been training really hard over the summer. I think she has an incredible work ethic and a great character. Her teammates really respect her for that.”

Mandi Kowal, Iowa rowing coach

“The toughest thing about rowing is managing time,” Keyes said. “I spend about three to four hours a day in the training room at West Campus working with different teams. Then I have all my other time commitments with getting my practice in and doing everything I can to get better every day.”

Keyes was in the Varsity-8 for most of last spring. The V-8 is the elite boat and is usually reserved for the top rowers. The first Regatta, Head of Rock will be held on Oct. 7 in Rockford, Ill. Iowa City will get its first glimpse of the Hawkeyes when they compete in the 19th Annual Head of Iowa on Oct. 28. Head of Iowa is a 2.5-mile race in the Iowa River.

The rowing team strives to improve and build off its success each year and it will look to be ready by the time the Head of Rock Regatta arrives. The fall regattas are primarily used to get the rowers prepared for the spring season and they are also a good measure to see where the team stands.

“The biggest thing is to be better than we were in the previous year, that’s what we’ve been doing these past few years,” Kowal said. “What we need to do is take it a step further and set some really specific goals instead of just being better. Once the kids kind of see what happens with their own testing in the fall, I think we will have a little more confidence going into the spring.”

The Big Ten Conference is a full of rowing powerhouses. Iowa has its work cut out, but the Hawkeyes believe they have the ability to take on the Big Ten and move up higher in the standings. They finished sixth in the conference championships last season. Both Kowal and Keyes have similar outlooks to this season as they continue to identify goals.

“You look at the Big Ten and it is a really strong division,” Kowal said. “It has been awhile since we have been able to beat Wisconsin and Minnesota. That is what our quest is — to move ourselves forward against Big Ten opponents. Anyone that is ranked above us is our biggest opponent.”

“We want to increase our Big Ten standing,” Keyes said. “Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are always really strong. I think we will be able to compete against them this season. Last year we came closer to being more of a threat and this year I think we will definitely give them a run for their money.”

Things continue to look up for the rowing squad as a new boathouse will be built across from the Mayflower Residence Hall in the city’s Terrell Mill Park. The new boathouse will play a big role in future recruiting.

“It will have a tremendous impact on the program, not only for recruits with experience, but recruits that are looking at coming on or walking on,” Kowal said. “They come in and look at the facilities we have and they say `Wow, they must mean business here’.”

This year will be all business for Keyes and her teammates. Look for Iowa to climb the standings and be a threat to their adversaries.

Click HERE for the Big Ten Network home page.