Before the sun rises each weekday this fall, more than 30 silhouetted figures will march through Lawrence's Burcham Park carrying their boats to the Kansas River.
"Six o'clock's early," Rob Catloth, KU crew coach, said. "But it's the varsity rowers that go in the morning. To be in those first boats they have to be dedicated."
Typically, KU's co-ed crew boasts 150 members, Linda Mullens, crew adviser, said. They practice in three different two-hour shifts each day.
"A lot of the girls come out in the fall because they want an exercise program or they want the camaraderie and social interaction," Tami Odell, crew president said.
But the team's image has been changing, Odell said. Two years ago, when nearly 300 novice rowers went out for crew, the team was known for its wild parties.
WITH IMPRESSIVE showings at nationals the past two years, team members have been placing more emphasis on serious competition.
"The whole year we prepare to race Wisco (Wisconsin University)," Odell said. "They're the closest to Ivy League the Midwest gets, so we're a success if we can beat them."
At Midwest Championships last year, the women's team came in third behind two Wisconsin boats. They out-placed all but one other team when they came in second at nationals, just 2 seconds behind Princeton University.
"The East Coast is set up for rowing, so it was exciting to beat out all those Ivy League schools," Odell said.
At eastern schools, crew is usually a well-financed varsity sport. At KU, crew has the largest budget among club sports, but it is still an expensive venture for members.
Dues are $100 per semester, and members also pay travel expenses and lodging at regattas.
A TOTAL of $14,000 of the crew's $60,000 budget is allocated from student recreational services fees and is designated to cover regatta entry fees, minor equipment purchases and rent for the boat house, Mullens said.
When the weather prohibits practice on the river, the team works out on rowing machines at the boat house at 800 East Eighth street.
Odell said crew members are often back on the water by February and practice non-stop until nationals. The rowers even meet during spring break, but not in Lawrence.
Last year the team spent their spring break in Natchitoches, La., practicing twice daily. Crew members ended the week scrimmaging teams from Kansas State and Washburn.
ODELL SAID that in the past the team had competed at the Heart of Texas Regatta in Austin, but since the date no longer coincided with KU's spring break, the crew team went to Louisiana instead. Catloth said the crew will probably return to Louisiana next year.
"Depending on the season, we'll typically have seven to 10 regattas," Mullens said.
KU hosts a novice regatta early in the fall that is designed to give new rowers meet experience. It is usually the first meet of the season.
With just four returning varsity rowers last year, the men had a team of mostly novice rowers, Catloth said. But that novice team took third in the Midwest Championships among novice racers.
CATLOTH SAID his goal for the men's team this year was to at least medal and to try to reach finals.
"I'd be real happy if they got to finals since they're all just second-year rowers," Catloth said. "They could do it. They're really into it."
"Crew is a sport you can easily become addicted to," Mullens said. "Rowing gets into your blood and you have to do it. It's the self-satisfaction that keeps them coming out."