Race for respect runs through St. Paul

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s rowing team thinks it has an opportunity this weekend to place itself among the top schools in the country.

And it gets that shot close to home.

The Gophers will race UCLA and Southern Methodist at 10 a.m. Saturday at Lake Phalen in St. Paul in the team’s only home race of the spring season.

It will be the second time in two weeks the 19th-ranked Gophers will face a team ahead of them in the polls.

Minnesota was close to No. 12 Southern California during the weekend, but fell to the Trojans by just less than five seconds.

“For us, it was the first time we’ve had an opportunity against an excellent team, and we blew it,” Minnesota coach Wendy Davis said. “But it seems to me that whenever you come up on your first time for anything, you don’t do it.”

Davis said the Trojans’ experience and maturity showed in the race, but added that she is proud of her team’s progress.

Now, the Gophers have a very similar chance in familiar waters Saturday. A win would be a big step for the young Minnesota program, Davis said, because it would be the first time it has ever beaten a top-15 team.

The rowers recognize the magnitude as well.

“It would just make people open their eyes to us,” junior Jillian Casey said. “It would show that we’re a legit team, and we’re here to work hard and win, and that we can compete with the top teams.”

The Gophers also have added incentive against the Bruins, who beat them by more than 20 seconds Nov. 14 at the Head of the Lake Regatta in Seattle.

It will be the last test for Minnesota before it competes in the Big Ten Championships on April 30.

“We need to break through and do well,” senior captain Andrea Pierce said. “In order for us to put the stamp on the season we want to, it’s very important that we race very hard against (UCLA).”

Davis said it’s harder to initially get into the group of top teams than to stay there, but she feels her team is ready to make the jump – whether it’s at Lake Phalen or anywhere else.

“We’re right on the cusp,” Davis said, “and I’m confident we can do it this year.”