Madison Wullschleger didn't think about earning her way to college through rowing when she first started the sport as a freshman at Edmond Memorial.
In fact, she didn't care much for the sport at first.
“I didn't know anyone and I didn't know what I was doing,” Wullschleger said. “It didn't click at first.”
Her parents kept encouraging her, though, after that first summer rowing camp at OKC RIVER SPORT and Wullschleger, a former gymnast, found her stroke, so to speak.
“Halfway through my freshman year I started liking it,” she said. “I started becoming better at it so I kept doing it. I liked how competitive it was.”
As part of the OKC RIVER SPORT Chesapeake Junior Crew last year, Wullschleger and her teammates finished fourth at the Head of the Charles in Boston, the largest head race in the country, against other junior crews (ages 13 through 19).
The Chesapeake Junior Crew led by Wullschleger also finished 12th at nationals. Wullschleger caught the eye of University of Oklahoma rowing coach Leeanne Crain, who has built the Sooners into a top 20 program in just five years of existence.
Wullschleger is now a freshman at OU and will be rowing for the Sooners Saturday in the Head of the Oklahoma, part of the Oklahoma Regatta Festival that continues through Sunday on the Oklahoma River.
“Maddie has tremendous potential and is already making an impact on the team this year,” Crain said. “She'll be racing in our second varsity eight this weekend in the collegiate eights races. We took notice of her during her senior year of high school.
“Being an athlete on the OKC RIVER SPORT team prepared her very well for the challenges of Division I rowing. She was a member of their top eight that enjoyed a great deal of success. She came to us well-coached and ready to compete when she arrived at OU this fall.”
OU's current roster includes four girls who are former members of OKC RIVER SPORT Chesapeake Junior Crews, including junior Ashley Carpenter who has consistently raced in the Sooners' top line-ups as a coxswain.
Brooke Holleman, who graduated last spring, was a member of OU's Big 12 championship team last year and the Sooners' first recruit from the OKC RIVER SPORT Chesapeake Junior Crew.
“She had an outstanding four year career at OU,” Crain said. “We take great pride in recruiting the best of the best around the country, but it is extra special when we can keep the top local talent right here.”
In addition to Oklahomans, OU's freshman class includes athletes from California, New Jersey, Florida, Missouri, Texas, Kansas, and one rower from Canada.
“Now that we've established ourselves as a top 20 program, we're starting to draw some high level recruits, which is exciting,” Crain said.
The Sooners finished the 2013 spring season by placing 17th at the NCAA Championships. It was OU's first time to qualify for the NCAA's. The Sooners graduated 14 seniors from that team but Crain says OU has a dynamic freshman class.
“We've only been on the water for a couple of weeks so we still have a lot of work to do from a technical standpoint, but I like what I'm seeing,” she said. “This team has great energy and the expectations are higher than they've ever been.”
Wullschleger was recruited by several universities but her final choice came down to Clemson or OU. Clemson has more tradition than OU in rowing, but Wullschleger was sold on the idea of helping to build a legacy for the Sooners.
“OU was actually the last school that I looked at,” she said. “I didn't want to look at it because it was in Oklahoma and I kinda wanted to leave (the state). But I liked the fact I could be a part of something that was going to be big.”