By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The term is talent-transfer and it is the bread-and-butter of many rowing programs, especially at the University of Iowa. It occurs when an athlete transitions from a sport it has known for many years into a new endeavor, like rowing.
Iowa head coach Andrew Carter remembers first meeting former Hawkeye cross country runner Hunter Koenigsfeld from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“She found her way into my office, all 6-foot-2 of her, introduced herself and asked if she could talk to me about rowing,” recalls Carter. “I’m sitting behind my desk, looking at all 6-2 of her, and said yes, absolutely you can talk to me about rowing.”
That same 6-foot-2 frame that intrigued Carter might be the same reason Koenigsfeld needed a new sport. She was an accomplished runner, qualifying for state and the Drake Relays all four years of high school. The success didn’t come without pain, specifically in her feet.
A walk-on for the Hawkeye cross country program in the fall of 2016, Koenigsfeld competed at the Hawkeye Invitational (3,000 meters) and the Illinois State Invitational (5,000 meters). The foot pain remained.
“I kept ending up in the training room,” Koenigsfeld said. “When you commit so much time to something, you want to be doing that thing. Just trying to rehabilitate isn’t fun. Being 6-2, I wasn’t going to be the most successful distance runner with a healthy weight and how I’m built. I think that led to a lot of the complications with my feet with all that pounding.”
There is more to story when it comes to why Koenigsfeld initially pushed pause on her college athletic career. In early January 2017, she was crossing a street near campus and was struck by a car.
“I broke (bones in) my face, had a bad concussion, and was out for two weeks,” Koenigsfeld said. “I don’t remember anything. It was hard to focus on school. I had to take less credit hours because of the concussion. I felt I was sprinting but not going anywhere.”
A self-proclaimed “impulsive person,” Koenigsfeld abruptly stopped running and began searching for ways to fill that void. She thought back to her junior year at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids. In a unit in her cross-fit performance physical education class, she set a school record time for rowing 500 meters.
“I knew the sport of rowing existed, so I emailed coach Carter with a lot of questions,” Koenigsfeld said.
Carter explained his philosophy and why talent-transfers are common for collegiate rowing programs.
“She got back to me within an hour,” Carter said.
In Koenigsfeld’s first season in the 1V8 boat, the Hawkeyes scored a school-record 69 points and placed 11th at the NCAA Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida. It was Iowa’s highest finish in the modern era.
A sophomore at the time, Koenigsfeld was named second-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA). A nursing major, she was one of five Hawkeyes recognized by the CRCA with a National Scholar Athlete award.
“She is incredibly athletic, easy to coach, and her training ethic is infectious,” Carter said. “If you ask her to try something differently, she understands it and can move her body in that new way and it sticks. She is a bit of a chameleon that way and can adapt to anything that you suggest.”
Koenigsfeld credits Carter for instilling confidence.
“At the start of the (2018) season (coach Carter) put me in the 1V8 and it wasn’t pretty,” Koenigsfeld said. “It’s not like I magically knew how to row; it was kind of ugly, but he had the confidence of putting me in the 1V8. Starting in a boat with such skill from the rest of the crewmates showed me from the get-go how to row effectively.
“That accelerated my rowing development. From there, it was about coming to practice every day and working hard when we’re told to work hard.”
Koenigsfeld wasn’t content with the success of 2018. The 13th-ranked Hawkeyes hosted their first home event in three years April 13 and rowed to victory over No. 11 Wisconsin and Minnesota. The 1V8 earned Big Ten Boat of the Week honors. Earlier that week, Koenigsfeld, along with teammates Hannah Greenlee and Contessa Harold, were invited to the U23 World Rowing Championship Team Selection Camp.
“I knew for me to be better than I was last year I needed to do more,” Koenigsfeld said. “More volume, get a bigger base, become stronger. That’s what I did in the fall; there are a lot of voluntary options in the fall and for a lot of those options, we took the harder one. We did a lot of 10Ks the normal person wouldn’t want to do. When it comes to yes or no, the answer was yes.”
The Hawkeyes will compete at the Longhorn Invitational on April 27 in Austin, Texas, before beginning the postseason May 19 at the Big Ten Championship in Devils Lake, Wisconsin. The NCAA Championships are May 31-June 2 in Indianapolis.
“We have a lot of things to prove to people on the national level that were left unsaid last year,” Koenigsfeld said. “I’m looking forward to qualifying for NCAAs and putting up a good performance to show what Iowa is capable of.”