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Steady as she goes

Lucy Ley, left, and her mother Amy are all smiles as Lucy signs her national letter of intent to attend the Florida Institute of Technology last month at the high school. (Submitted photo)

River Falls High School senior Lucy Ley got the college scholarship she wanted. Just not in the sport she started out with.

Ley, a two-time All-Big Rivers Conference selection and three-year starter on the Wildcat volleyball team, signed a national letter of intent last month to accept a rowing scholarship to Florida Institute of Technology, better known as Florida Tech, in Melbourne, Fla., beginning next fall.

"It's going to be an adventure," she said. "I've been to Florida once, when I was around 3 (years old). But I went there on my first official college visit in September and it ended up being my last. I fell in love with it right away. It's going to be a dream."

Ley used to dream about playing college volleyball. She's played the sport the last seven years, earning All-American honors and reaching two national championship matches with junior club teams in addition to two all-conference seasons in three years with the Wildcats.

So how did she end up with a rowing scholarship?

"About two years ago somebody from the Iowa State rowing club contacted me and asked me about rowing, and I brushed them off because I was a volleyball player not a rower, and I was going to go to college to play volleyball," she said. "But this past spring I realized rowing could open more doors for me as far as college opportunities."

Ley contacted the Minnesota Boat Club in St. Paul last April and they invited her over to give the sport a try.

"The first day there I thought they would put me on an indoor rowing machine, but they had me outside, in April, on a 45-degree day on the Mississippi River when it was raining. But I turned out to be pretty good at it."

Ley put up with all the complications of rowing on the Mississippi, and competed in about a dozen regattas this past spring, summer and fall across the United States and Canada, before Florida Tech came calling in September. She said she's looking forward to rowing on the warm, open waters in Florida.

"The Mississippi is pretty gross," she said. "At least four times I've seen dead pigs floating by and touched them with my oars. And you're constantly fighting the barges. In Florida we row every morning at 5 a.m., at sunrise. It's absolutely stunning."

Ley said it was hard to give up her senior year of high school volleyball, especially when the Wildcats went on to make their first-ever appearance in the WIAA State Tournament without her.

"That first home game, on the ride there, I think I cried the whole time because I missed the sport, and I missed the girls so much," she said. "I'm so happy for the girls, but if I stayed in volleyball I wouldn't be in the position I am now."

Ley said her volleyball training has helped her become a better rower.

"You have to have strong legs," she noted. "A lot of people think it's all upper body, but you're legs are working all the time. If you're taller you can produce more power."

Ley recently joined the high school powerlifting club and won her very first competition two weeks ago. She competes in track and field as well and is looking forward to trying the throwing events this spring.

She said it was tough walking away from volleyball, but she doesn't regret the choice.

"I was dead-set on college volleyball, but I came to the realization I wasn't 6-2 and that's what they're looking for," the 5-foot, 10 1/2-inch high school senior said. "So I switched to rowing and it ended up benefiting me. I'm really excited about it."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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