Depth begins to accumulate for hungry Gophers

The goal again this season is to make NCAAs for the first time in team history.

Minnesota’s rowing team has had 10 months to think about last season’s Central/South Sprints regatta, in which it missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships by two seconds.

This year, the team said it feels it is prepared to make school history and qualify for nationals for the first time in the program’s five-year history.

“The expectations are to do better than we ever have in the past,” senior Beth Ratterman said. “We have a really strong team this year.”

Despite graduating nine seniors last year and having a fairly young team, coach Wendy Davis said she feels her team has more depth and strength than ever.

“Our junior class is very strong,” Davis said. “We’re young, but I feel like we know more than we’ve ever known. And that’s because the program is more experienced.”

The Gophers opened the spring season during the weekend, defeating Louisville in all four events. The First Varsity Eight finished with a time of 6:40.

The effort was good for Big Ten boat of the week.

Minnesota also raced well against No. 10 Tennessee on Saturday, losing but improving its times.

The team’s depth should be key to steady progress.

“We don’t have the superstars we’ve had in the past,” Davis said. “But we have everybody’s ergometer (test score) under 7 minutes, 30 seconds, and we haven’t had that in the past.”

The Gophers have a short history of finishing fifth at the Big Ten Championships. And in the past, only the top four Big Ten schools have been invited for the NCAA regatta. So Minnesota will likely have to move up a place to qualify.

Though the task will be tough, as the Big Ten is one of the strongest conferences, team members said they feel confident about their chances.

“(The NCAA Championships) is what we’ve been looking at since last year when we finished the season,” senior Sam Wangsgard said. “It’s definitely on our minds every day when we go out and practice.”

Minnesota is still considered a young and inexperienced program by other schools, which likely will not change until the Gophers qualify for the NCAA Championships, Davis said.

Along with not receiving a great deal of respect, Minnesota has challenges other schools do not face, including its yet-to-be-built boathouse.

But things should only get better, and Davis said she likes the future of the program.

“We would like to get to the NCAAs,” she said. “What we would really like to do is race to our capabilities.”