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Minnesota is second with three Big Ten titles

In 1986, Minnesota’s varsity rowing program was canceled and demoted to club status.

But in fall 2000 coach Wendy Davis began her resurrection of the program and it was moved back to the varsity level.

On Saturday five and a half years later, Minnesota’s rowing team hosted the Big Ten Championships for the first time at Lake Phalen in St. Paul.

And they used the opportunity to further the program’s stature.

Minnesota finished second overall, just nine points behind Big Ten champion Ohio State, while qualifying all of its boats for their respective grand finals.

“That’s the thing that makes us jump for joy, is how far we’ve come in such a short time,” Davis said. “We’ve got an exciting, attractive program now, with more and more chances to get better.”

Minnesota’s rowing team has had a tough time making their way to the top of a young Big Ten conference over the past few years.

In the past three Big Ten Championships, Minnesota only had qualified two varsity boats for the grand finals, including last year’s fifth-place finish.

That all changed Saturday as the Gophers qualified for every grand final and won three titles.

Minnesota’s first-ever varsity grand final win came when the first varsity-four team of coxswain Kaja Tally and rowers Tracey Tallman, Katie Engel, Christine O’Donnell and Alissa Almquist edged out Michigan State. The Gophers clocked in at seven minutes, 39.5 seconds, just ahead of the Spartans’ 7:40.6. They also won their qualifying heat.

“Honestly, I was shocked,” Tallman said about the win. “Winning our first varsity title, it gives me chills just talking about it.”

Davis said that the Gophers first varsity-four is a great example of Minnesota’s ability to groom talent.

“Our first varsity-four is a perfect symbol for our program,” Davis said. “We have two recruits and two walk-ons who work really well together.”

The Gophers second varsity-four capped off Minnesota’s four-boat dominance with a championship of their own.

The team of Stephanie Holzwart, Liz Ponder, Emily Baxter, Lauren Van Proosdy and Angela Reesman beat out Ohio State in the grand finals, posting a winning time of 8:01.9.

And just when it seemed Minnesota’s day couldn’t get any better, the novice-eight boats got on the water.

“When they made the grand finals, we knew we were in great shape,” Davis said. “From top to bottom everyone performed for us, and that’s what makes this that much more enjoyable.”

The Gophers first novice-eight finished third in their grand finals, while the second novice-eight became the third Minnesota boat to clock a first-place time.

The boat of coxswain Sarah Woessner and rowers Julia Beni, Susan Closmore, Lindsey Kamp, Erika Wederquist, Alexandra Lacey, Katie Rowbottom, Samantha Thomas and Nicole Wahl finished with a time of 7:21.0, beating second-place Wisconsin by more than four seconds.

The Gophers first varsity-eight qualified for the Grand Finals by finishing second in the opening heat, just three-tenths of a second behind eventual champion Ohio State. The Gophers boat finished third in the finals.

Minnesota’s second varsity-eight made the Grand Finals as well, qualifying second, finishing fourth overall.

All in all, despite cold, windy and rainy weather, the day couldn’t have played out much better for Minnesota.

“I don’t even know if I can put it into words yet,” Engel said. “To go out and perform and accomplish what we did, it was awesome.”

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