Mary Katharine (MK) Coolican first stepped into Pioneer rowing when she was a freshman and has been rowing ever since. In fact, she experienced success pretty quickly in high school and has a theory or two as to why Pioneer Rowing Club rows to such high standards each and every year.
“I think the Pioneer crew is so good every year because of the standards that are set by our amazing coaches, and athletes year after year,” she says. “The graduating seniors leave their mark on the program and the rising athletes understand their responsibility to uphold the team’s standards.
“We are constantly pushed every day, and our coaches and teammates have high expectations. High expectations combined with a nurturing, yet strict culture, has produced a program that was, is, and will continue to be successful going forward.”
Coolican, now a senior captain, remembers her first year with Pioneer. And it was a pretty special first year. Pioneer’s novice class had a pretty impressive and standout season that freshman year.
“We came in with a large group of girls, both in size and numbers, which allowed us to coast through local regattas and lead us to success at Midwest’s (second in 1N8; first in 1N4) as well as a rare trip to Scholastic Nationals where we placed second in the nation in the Freshman 8,” she said. “We picked up a second-place finish at Canadian Nationals as well in the 63 kg Junior 8, which was a great feeling.”
Coolican’s sophomore year fall season was pre-pandemic and “entirely normal.”
“We got to travel to Traverse City for the Head of the North regatta which is always a good time because it’s an overnight trip,” she said. “We did not have a spring season that year due to COVID.”
Coolican’s junior year fall season occurred in the midst of the pandemic so they combined with the Skyline team to row in singles (1 person boats) near Gallup park. “This was a huge adjustment for me in terms of going from sweep rowing (1 oar), to sculling (2 oars),” she says. “I really learned to appreciate dealing with adversity and being uncomfortable. It was unique, yet one of my favorite seasons. We were masked while practicing and racing for almost the entire season.”
Pioneer ended up winning the state championships in the 1V8 and the 1V4.
“It was a great feeling as the other big regattas that we usually attend were canceled,” Coolican said.
Her senior year fall season was “refreshing” as they reached a sense of normalcy again. “Our mask mandate was lifted for outdoor sports and we raced in all of our normal regattas,” she said. “I really appreciated team bus rides, trailering the boats and getting to spend time with my teammates and coaches in person.”
The Fall season was a great start to the year for the Pioneers who placed at every regatta.
“The men’s team has been performing especially well in a sort of “comeback” fashion,” Coolican says. “As for the women’s team, except for a minor setback at the Head of the North regatta missing first place finishes in both the 1v8 and the 1v4, we had a great fall. We successfully beat Skyline for a second time at the Head of the Gallup regatta, which was a great feeling.”
As for the spring?
“We’re always looking to grab a women’s state championship, and hopefully a combined-team points trophy,” she says. “Additionally, medaling at Midwest’s and Canadian nationals are high on our list of goals.”
Coolican is proud to be a captain and was “humbled” that her peers selected her for such an important leadership position.
“It’s definitely a strange feeling having to instruct your friends and teammates what to do, but I’ve found that by being kind, yet assertive makes being a captain fairly simple,” she says. “I see my role as being there for my teammates in whatever way I can, whether that be emotionally, athletically or academically, as well as stepping up when things need to get done. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you don’t always have to lead with your voice. Actions, and leading by example, are important to creating a positive, productive team culture and experience.”
Coolican, 17, first became interested in crew the summer before her freshman year of high school when her friend suggested she join her at a “Learn to Row” camp hosted by the Washtenaw Rowing Center.
“I quickly fell in love with rowing because while other sports that I’ve played such as basketball, soccer and softball are all deemed ‘team sports,’ they are mostly made up of individual skills,” she said. “However, I found crew to be a true team sport. You win or lose with the other people in your boat as a team, not as an individual. The true team culture, encouragement and support between teammates is what makes the rowing community so special.”
Mary Katharine, the daughter of Maria Coolican, also excels in the classroom. She has a 3.917 GPA, plays travel softball (Turnin’ 2 Fastpitch) and enjoys playing guitar.
Coolican has already locked down her plans after high school – and, yes, they definitely include rowing. She has committed to Villanova University in Pennsylvania next year and will row for the Wildcats.
“My recruiting process was very different due to COVID restrictions which made the selection process very unique,” she says. “Ultimately, I chose to accept a scholarship offer to row at Villanova because I felt comfortable and welcomed as soon as I stepped on campus this past October. I got to tour the athletic facilities and meet with the coaching staff and that really solidified my choice. Their core values of kindness, hard work, positivity and team closeness, along with the phenomenal academic culture and rigor, made my decision easy. I’m really stoked to get to campus next fall.”
She has a few more goals to row in the spring before heading east.
“I’m really looking forward to the spring,” she says.
“The crew team at Pioneer should definitely be described as a family,” she says. “I not only eat lunch everyday with upwards of six of my other teammates, but some of them have become my closest, and lifelong friends. The community that the sport provides goes beyond the bounds of practices and regattas, but it carries over into our social and personal lives as well. I can thank the crew team for providing me with some of the most meaningful relationships in my life.”
Senior pictures by Heidi McClelland Photography