Minnesota set to open up Big Ten play in Ann Arbor

The Gophers will compete in the Midwest for the first time all year.

Jack Satzinger

For the past two months, the Gophers escaped the frozen Mississippi River for regattas in California, Tennessee and Boston.

Now, as the Minnesota winter finally turns to spring, the team’s Big Ten season begins.

“It’s all about the Big Ten,” head coach Wendy Davis said.

“Here we go.”

The Gophers will compete against Michigan and Michigan State in Ann Arbor, Mich., over the weekend. This event was originally scheduled to take place in East Lansing, Mich., but was moved to Ann Arbor because the lake Michigan State competes on is still frozen.

“You kind of have to wait for things to thaw out around here,” Davis said.

Minnesota made a personnel change in time for the opening of its Big Ten season, moving senior coxswain Rachael Rogers into the first varsity eight boat. Rogers, 23, said her age and experience played a big role in the team’s decision to move her up to the top boat.

“If you’re a confident 20-year-old, you’re going to be an even more confident 23-year-old,” Davis said.

Rogers’ teammates supported the promotion.

“She knows how to motivate us toward the finish line in the fastest way possible,” junior Lynn Hodnett said. “I’m really happy that she’s in our boat.”

Taylor Gainey was with the first varsity eight before the switch, but Davis said the move has been a “win-win” as the sophomore has meshed well with the second varsity eight.

Though the Gophers’ first boat is starting to click as an important part of the season commences, Davis was quick to point out that its rowers are still learning.

“We’re still on this high trajectory of learning and improving a lot more than other first varsity eights around the country,” Davis said. “It’s been fun to watch them jell.”

The Gophers will see just how strong their first unit is Saturday, going up against stiff competition. Michigan is ranked 10th in the country, and Michigan State received five votes toward a national ranking. The Gophers received two votes, and a strong showing against tough teams could increase that number next week.

“Michigan was second in the nation in 2012,” Davis said. “That’s nothing to sneeze at. This league is really tough.”

Wisconsin, ranked 15th, will also be in Ann Arbor this weekend. The Gophers won’t race against the Badgers but should get a good look at their rival when they come to Minneapolis next month.

“It’s going to be helpful to see how we compare to them,” Hodnett said, “so having them at Michigan and seeing how they pull against Michigan and Michigan State is going to be a huge advantage.”