When Kelsey Thomas and McKenzie Clifford chose to enroll at the University of Louisville they did not expect to be participating in varsity sports. But the former Henry County Lady Cat athletes are doing just that.
Clifford played four years of basketball, softball and volleyball, and two years of golf in high school. Thomas also participated in volleyball and softball, and played basketball for a couple of years.
This fall, the two went out for the U of L rowing team and made it. Both compete in the novice 8’s, which according to Thomas, is kind of like being on the junior varsity team. “The novice competes in 8’s but we have gone out on the river in 4’s as well,” she said.
“We are on the novice team,” Clifford said. “We hope to both make varsity next year. My goal is to make the varsity before Big East in May.”
During the first few weeks of classes, the duo signed up for the tryouts.
“There were several tables set up around campus during the first few weeks of classes, and Kenzie and I had both heard about tryouts,” Thomas said. “We figured we might as well give it a shot. It couldn’t hurt to have another opportunity to get involved and meet new people.”
“We were walking around campus the first week when we were approached about the sport,” Clifford said. “Neither one of us knew much about it but it sounded pretty fun so we ended up going out for the team together.”
Rowing requires a combination of upper body strength and endurance that most high school athletes are not accustomed to. For Clifford, adjusting to rowing’s difficulty was difficult in itself.
“Oh practices…. I played four sports during my time in high school and I have never done something so hard in my life,” she said. “I can honestly say this sport is harder than any other sport I have ever participated in. It has definitely pushed me to my limits. Being a novice, it makes it harder because we are trying to catch up with the varsity.” Thomas agreed that practices were harder than anything she did in high school.
Clifford participated in her first regatta in Chattanooga on Nov. 4. “It was great! It was a lot of fun and I really got the feel of what a race was like,” she said. “It was very tough, being my first 5k, but there were thousands and thousands of people there, which made it worth it. I couldn’t believe how big the sport really was. Our varsity No. 1 boat got first out of 53 teams. As a novice boat I feel we are tough competition. We have improved so much and are not far behind the varsity. If we keep working hard, by Big East we could go far.”
Both girls have found college life and athletics challenging but rewarding. “College has been a very eye-opening experience so far,” Thomas said. “It has been incredible getting to meet new people with experiences different from my own. Academically, it has been challenging and slightly overwhelming, but manageable. Athletically, it has been time consuming, but well worth the effort. I am really looking forward to spring, when the season begins.”
“My experience at college so far has been great,” she said. “Academically it has been a little challenging because you are responsible for getting all your work done on your own. There isn’t anyone there to make sure you have all your homework done and papers turned in on time. My athletic experience here at U of L has been amazing. Louisville really loves its athletes. Being a U of L athlete is an amazing experience and I couldn’t ask for more. Trying to balance out being a college student, college athlete and working a job on the weekends can be difficult and tiring at times but it is definitely worth it. I’m so fortunate to be a part of the U of L rowing team. I love my team and coaches. I’m very happy where I am at.”