Rowed scholar

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Megan Mills finds a look verus Westfield. Karen Branham | For The Times-Post

PENDLETON — It’s no secret Madison County produces talented high school athletes who sign with universities to continue playing their respective sports at the next level. Pendleton Heights certainly has had its fair share of representation.

Senior Megan Mills is considered a stand-out athlete in both soccer and basketball, and no one was surprised she was recruited to compete in the college ranks.

What might be surprising, however, is Mills was recruited to engage in a sport she’s never tried.

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Not even once.

Mills signed a letter of intent to attend Indiana University to be a member of the women’s rowing squad.

Eight teams in the Big 10 Conference have women’s rowing teams. Mills will be one of 10 of the incoming freshman class who will begin training and competing in the Novice division of the sport.

Mills said she was at a basketball tournament, and one of the coaches came to her and told her she would make a good rower.

“I thought, ‘Why not?” Mills said. “It would be cool if I could get something.”

Mills emailed the coach and said they made a good connection. Mills and her father did their research on the nationally ranked program.

“It looked like they were together as a team, and that’s what I was looking for,” Mills said.

Because Mills wants to study business, she also knew Indiana University is well-known for its business school, and Katie Bitz, who is an assistant coach for the Novice group convinced Mills she was right for their program.

“She really believed in me and made me feel I could became a better person,” Mills said.

Bitz said Mills had the qualities Indiana is searching for in prospective rowers.

“The most important quality to me in a prospective rower, besides the obvious physical ones, is grit,” Bitz said. “You have to have that mind-set of all or nothing. An unyielding sense of urgency and a relentless pursuit to be your best self every day. Megan has that hands down. I am beyond excited to be able to coach her.”

After talking with Mills on the phone, she said she knew Mills was the real deal.

“You can feel her competitive nature and dedication in her voice,” Bitz said.

Her job, Bitz said, is to find the “talent transfer” athletes. She said most of their Novice recruits have not rowed before. They look for elite athletes in other sports and look at how they can maximize the talent.

She said the “talent transfer” athletes have been the backbone of the program from its beginning.

The training is intense, and Mills said she was told she would be tested.

The standard for most women rowers is between 5’8’ to 6’2”. Mills is 5’10”.

“She (Bitz) said my body type, and that I can do a certain amount of weight helps me out,” Mills said.

With her background in soccer and basketball, Mills said she believes she can do it.

“A coach once told me the work you put in will show up at the end, and I worked so hard to get to where I wanted to be with my soccer skills it helped me with my mental toughness, and basketball helped me with the physical and mental blocks,” Mills said.

Her Arabian coaches also are convinced Mills will succeed at Indiana.

Mark Davy, Pendleton Heights’ girls soccer coach, said he has complete faith in Mills.

“Whatever she puts her mind to, she’ll be good. She came to practice and performed in practice the same way she played in a game.”

Davy said every position Mills played on the soccer field she was the best player out there.

Arabian girls’ basketball coach Chad Cook echoed the sentiment.

“Megan is very athletic, strong and very disciplined in her workouts. She’s worked hard to be the athlete she is,” Cook said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed by college coaches.”

Cook said when other coaches see Mills, they know she will fit into their program.

“She deserves all the credit. It didn’t (happen) without work. It came from being involved in a lot of different ways. She’s not just a basketball player or soccer player. All of that paid off for her.”

Additionally, one other aspect of rowing attracted Mills to the idea.

While conditioning and practice is ongoing, the competitive schedule better suits her studies. She won’t be missing as many classes as she would with the travel and competition of soccer or basketball.

Mills will begin in the Novice program, which is the first year of collegiate rowing.

Bitz said that while the word “novice” may make it seem like it’s easy or not as serious, she said novice is far from easy.

“It will be the most challenging thing these young women have done so far. We’re not only teaching the how to row but also to be a D1 (Division 1) athlete… how to train, to lose, to win, to be a teammate.”

The Big 10 Conference is one of the toughest in the NCAA, and Bitz said making it to the NCAA championships — something IU has done the last six years — is no easy feat.

The team uses nearby Lake Lemon for practices. With the lake being 6,000 meters long and about 2,000 meters wide, it is allows the real-time race scenarios. According to Bitz, residents who live on the lake are extremely respectful and supportive of the team.

After basketball season, Mills plans to run track in the spring to keep up her conditioning. She hasn’t run track since middle school but said she is ready to give her all to another sport.

She said she’s excited about the opportunity but still has some nerves about going into an unknown.

“I think, though, it’ll be great.”