Swimmer Cali Rowland transfers to San Jose State
People often think that things are easy for scholarship athletes — but don't tell that to Cali Rowland.
The 2018 Forest Grove High School graduate and standout swimmer recently completed her freshman season at Oregon State University, attending school and competing for the Beavers in Corvallis. But while she's up to the challenge both in and out of the pool, the former first team all-league swimmer met her biggest obstacle at season's end when the university announced it was cutting the swimming program altogether.
"We had no inkling this was coming," Rowland said. "When we walked out of the meeting people were mad and sad, and in the meeting, people were crying and the coaches were upset as well, because they didn't know. They had no clue."
According to an all-university email sent shortly after the announcement, the decision was based on the university's commitment — or lack thereof — to offer quality, equitable and competitive NCAA experiences while balancing financial requirements. The decision followed a review from the athletics department, President Ed Ray and the Athletics Financial Sustainability Plan Work Group that found OSU could not meet those commitments while retaining women's swimming as an NCAA sport. Current OSU pool and diving facilities do not meet NCAA standards.
Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes stated in the email that the city-owned Osborn Aquatics Center, where the team currently holds competitive meets, is not comparable to other swimming facilities in the Pac-12. According to the email, a new collegiate swimming and diving facility would cost $18 million to $22 million to build, not including maintenance.
"Investing in competitive swimming program facilities would negatively impact our ability to serve facility requirements for all sports and OSU student athletes," Barnes wrote in the email.
The decision came on the heels of what, by most accounts, was a relatively successful Pac-12 Championships for the Beavers women, a meet filled with broken team records, personal best times and NCAA qualifications. Upon their return, the team was summoned to a mandatory meeting despite a hectic schedule that included catching up on classes and midterms — something that had Rowland and her teammates wondering what was up.
"People were like, 'I can't because I have a midterm,' but our coach was like, 'no, you have to be there,'" Rowland said. "That was a little concerning because we didn't know if it was a congratulations because we did really well this year in Pacs, which is a really good accomplishment because the Pac teams are so good, or did someone get in trouble for something out of the pool? We didn't know."
Soon enough, they did.
Rowland went to Oregon State to swim. As long as she can remember, swimming has been one of the biggest and best parts of her life. For the past decade she's trained, competed and recently worked at the Forest Grove Aquatic Center, and when it came to choosing a school to further her commitment to the sport, it was more about swimming then it was about the education she'd get as a result.
"I don't really like school," she said with a chuckle. "For me, it's always been swimming, then school."
Rowland didn't know entirely what to expect when she got to Corvallis. She'd trained hard under FGHS head coach Tabor Waterstreet, but knew it would likely be a more arduous regimen at OSU. Couple that with the rigors of a freshman student experience, and she was a bit nervous as to how it'd come together upon her arrival.
"It was a big adjustment for me both school- and swimming-wise," Rowland said. "Tabor's workouts are so mentally and physically challenging, so I felt really prepared, but I was also scared of the unknown. After two weeks you start to get into the tough stuff and it's just an entirely different can of worms. The sets are different, the coaching is different and it was harder than I expected. But I told myself, 'I can do this,' and it definitely felt like I was getting stronger" — something that made the end-of-year bombshell that much more difficult to wrap her head around.
"When we were walking back from the meeting I called my parents and told them the program was cut and that I didn't know what I was going to do."
However, Rowland — along with her now former teammates — didn't waste much time figuring it out. They almost immediately went to the compliance office on campus and put their names into the NCAA transfer portal — a database designed to contact all NCAA coaches about an intention to transfer. Rowland quickly heard from more than 20 schools and coaches regarding an opportunity to join their teams, and from there she whittled the list to roughly seven through research and phone calls to coaches. Seven then became four (Northern Colorado, Toledo, San Jose State and Washington State), all of which she'd spend weekends last April visiting in person. Ultimately, she committed to San Jose State, where she'll be headed later this month.
"I really liked all of the coaches I met and originally thought I wanted to go to Toledo. Then I went to San Jose and thought it was great," Rowland said. "They have a new pool and a new facility to train in. But I always asked, 'is there any chance your program is going to be cut?' I don't think I could go through that again."
Despite what appears to be a relatively seamless transition, Rowland says it's been far from easy and — when it crosses her mind — continues to bother her. She met and befriended 20 new teammates last fall, but while she has to say goodbye to them, she's also looking forward to meeting 20 more when she gets to San Jose in a couple of weeks.
"It's what you make of it, right?" Rowland said. "I could be super sad and dwell on it, but why? I get to go to California and ever since I was little I wanted to go live there at some point in my life. Now I get to go swim there while getting my education, mostly for free."
All of the now former OSU swimmers were offered the opportunity to stay in Corvallis and finish their education, paid in full, which some chose to do. But did Rowland ever consider hanging up the swim cap, staying at OSU and simply focusing on her education?
"No," she said. "The reason I went to Oregon State was so I could swim. Me being me, I'm not a super academic person, so it's pretty awesome that I get all these resources to help me in school. Plus, I'm not sure who I'd be without swimming."
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