Big Ten Championships a chance to take next step forward

With two big steps behind them, the Gophers aim to finish in the top four.

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s rowing team has already achieved two firsts for its program this season – being nationally ranked and beating a top-15 team.

The Gophers look to add another milestone to the list when they travel to Bloomington, Ind., for Saturday’s Big Ten Championships.

In four years, Minnesota has never finished higher than fifth at the Big Ten races, but coach Wendy Davis said she feels her team has the ability to do better than that this year.

“We’re getting our speed at just the right time, and if everyone stays healthy, we’ll have a good weekend,” Davis said. “As a team, we want to finish in the top four.”

The First Varsity Eight boat is seeded fifth in the conference and will compete in the first heat, along with top seed Michigan and No. 4 Wisconsin.

The Gophers got a good draw, Davis said, because two of the three teams in the first heat will qualify for the Grand Final race. The second heat has four teams in it, which makes the path to the final race more competitive.

Because the Wolverines have been a rowing powerhouse and have won four out of the five Big Ten Championships, Minnesota is keying in on the Badgers.

“If we beat Wisconsin, we get to go to the Grand Finals,” junior Berit Tomten said. “We’re definitely the underdog in it Ö but we definitely feel that there’s a decent chance we can come and beat them.”

The Second Varsity Eight is ranked sixth and is in the tougher heat, competing against No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Michigan and No. 7 Iowa.

“Trying to knock off (Michigan or Wisconsin) will be difficult,” junior Katie Biese said. “We’ve been working on dealing with the pressure and not letting the conditions of the race or our competition get to us.”

Minnesota will also send two Varsity Four boats and two Novice Eight boats to Big Tens.

Each of the six races scores points toward the team total to determine the Big Ten champion, and they are weighted so the First and Second Varsity Eight races are worth the most.

Finishing in the top four overall would be a huge accomplishment, Davis said, because three of the seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 10 in the nation, with No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 15 Minnesota not far behind.

A top-four finish would also likely move the team up in the national rankings as well as put the Gophers in a better seed for the NCAA Central Region Sprints on May 14-15.

And Davis said she feels confident her team is ready to take the next step.

“We’re absolutely the fastest we’ve ever been in our program history,” she said. “We’re moving better than we’ve ever moved.

“It’s not an accident that |this year we’re ranked in the top 20.”