Coxswain Gainey takes charge as junior

Junior coxswain Taylor Gainey coordinates and guides the boat at the rowing team's practice March 23 in the Mississippi River.

Daily File Photo, Juliet Farmer

Junior coxswain Taylor Gainey coordinates and guides the boat at the rowing team’s practice March 23 in the Mississippi River.

Jack Satzinger

Last Tuesday afternoon, Taylor Gainey hunched down in the back of a boat floating on the Mississippi River. 

With 36-degree water splashing onto her face, the Gophers’ first varsity eight coxswain shouted orders to her fellow rowers who were situated in front of her. The exceptionally windy day brought large waves and a strong current. 

But Gainey showed she is more than capable of guiding the Gophers through rough water. After a year of flip-flopping between the first and second varsity eight boats, the junior has emerged as Minnesota’s leader. 

Most college sports teams are guided by seniors that naturally step into leadership roles after years of experience. But Gainey is plenty ready to lead the Gophers — despite being a junior on a team with five seniors.

“It’s been hard because all of us are kind of the same age, so [for] any one person to kind of step out has been difficult,” Gainey said. “I’m definitely growing into that [leadership] role.” 

A lot of Minnesota’s team started rowing in college as walk-ons, but Gainey was a recruit. She began rowing as a sophomore in high school and quickly became the coxswain for her school’s boys’ team.

At the beginning of last season at Minnesota, Gainey spent a lot of time with the team’s first varsity eight. But as time wore on, head coach Wendy Davis decided to slide Gainey into the second varsity eight with some of the team’s younger rowers. Rachael Rogers, a senior at the time, replaced her in the top boat.

“It was asking a lot of her to step into that first varsity eight role,” Davis said. “Taylor is doing a fantastic job this year, and she’s taken on that role of teaching the other coxswains and helping guide them on the water. Any questions they may have, they know they can talk to Taylor.”

After switching roles last year, Gainey made it her goal to emerge as the top coxswain this year.

And that’s exactly what she did. 

“I’m really, really excited. I wanted it so badly. I know last year it was kind of back and forth between [Rogers and I],” Gainey said. “This year, I really want to prove myself.” 

Gainey’s teammates have noticed a difference in her demeanor. 

“She came back this year more determined to tell us what we want to hear. … I hold her in the highest esteem,” senior Lynn Hodnett said. “She holds us responsible in the boat.”

While Gainey wasn’t on the first varsity eight for all of last year, she said she gained valuable experience in the season’s early days. 

The Pickerington, Ohio, native raced in the Head of the Charles for the second time in October and exercised her prior knowledge of the course.

“You gain confidence when you can repeat some of these regattas,” Davis said. “[Gainey is] way more confident. When she says something to the rowers, it sticks.” 

By the end of last Tuesday’s practice, a very large wave sprayed a significant amount of water into Gainey’s boat, which is less than a foot wide and susceptible to sinking in rough conditions.

“We’re fine,” the coxswain shouted, reassuring Davis that she could lead the Gophers through the rest of the workout. 

And then the team carried on, sticking close to shore and avoiding some of the larger waves that were in the center of the river. 

“Everything runs so smoothly when everyone knows who is in charge,” Davis said. “And Taylor Gainey is in charge.”