Early race a focus for Gophers

Minnesota’s rowers struggled early last weekend in losing at 14th-ranked UCLA.

Matt Perkins

Last week Minnesota’s rowing team split up.

The Gophers first and second varsity eight-boats traveled to UCLA, while the four-boats and novices stayed home to practice.

Those who didn’t make the trip to California worked on their start speed, which coincidentally was the Gophers’ biggest problem against the Bruins.

So getting off the line remained a focus this week in practice as the 18th-ranked Gophers prepare to face Indiana and Ohio State this weekend in Bloomington, Ind.

“We are a strong start team usually, but we really let UCLA build a lead on us early,” senior and first varsity-eight stroke Cheryl Wick said. “That’s something we are going to have to work on from here on out.”

The Gophers know they have the speed in any of their boats to contest with any team in the Big Ten. Evidence of that can be seen in the team’s two-tenths of a second loss to 14th-ranked UCLA last Saturday.

“It says something that we weren’t at our best and were still able to compete against them,” senior and second varsity eight member Megan Stuhlfaut said. “But we need to get back to doing what we know we can do.”

This weekend’s matchup against Indiana and Ohio State will be Minnesota’s last chance to measure up against Big Ten opponents before the Big Ten Championships at the end of the month.

Last year the Gophers fell to Ohio State in both eight-boat races, while winning the four-boat races. The Gophers swept Indiana in all four races.

Similar results could be expected this time around because Ohio State, the fifth-ranked team in the country, appears to be the favorite.

“We’re busy trying to qualify for NCAAs and they’re looking to win it,” coach Wendy Davis said. “Ohio State is the real deal. So are we, but on paper the expectations are that they would beat us and it would take a huge effort to change that.”

The one thing that would help the Gophers upset efforts is a great start off the line.

“We were only able to get on the water twice this week because the river is crazy,” Davis said. “But we worked on our starts, adjusted how light the boat is to make it a bit heavier, and we’ll see how we improve.”

The Gophers have their sights set on improving their pace.

Against UCLA last weekend, Minnesota was rowing at a frantic pace off the line and fell behind early, Davis said.

To compete against Indiana and Ohio State on Saturday, the Gophers can’t repeat that performance.

“That internal focus is needed,” Davis said. “It’s like one of those cartoons where the guy falls off a cliff and starts flailing all over the place, that’s exactly what we were doing last weekend.”