After a Saturday morning session of races at the Oregon State Classic that included two last-place finishes, head coach Wendy Davis had a simple message for her team.
“This is a test of character. Do you say, ‘Shoot, we just came in last, and we suck?’ Or do you say, ‘Oh I know what to do to fix this,’ and you go out and you fix it,” Davis said.
If Minnesota’s afternoon races are any indication, Davis’ rowers took the latter option.
The Gophers beat a ranked Louisville team in their last three races of the day to gain some momentum heading into the meat of the season.
“Our first [race] didn’t go quite as well as we would have liked, but we definitely got it together and improved on the second race and left the course happy,” junior Brianna Boileau said.
Minnesota, which hadn’t competed since spring break, might have been caught off guard by the intensity of race day at first.
“You can practice and practice and practice, but it’s not a substitute for the competition. You need to get competition hardened,” Davis said. “The last time we had races of significance was March 14th.”
Weather was another factor that contributed to Minnesota’s turnaround after a subpar morning of racing. In the morning, there was a tailwind, which Davis said favors crews with polished technique. As the day progressed, a slight headwind favored a physically stronger crew like Minnesota.
“Where we’re headed towards is being both technically proficient and strong, but right now, we’re just kind of in that strong phase because we just need more water time,” Davis said.
Before Saturday’s races at Oregon State began, the Gophers were excited to use the day as a measuring stick.
On top of ranked Louisville, the field included top-10 Stanford and Washington — arguably the strongest test for the Gophers so far this season.
“I think it will be a good regatta to kind of see where we stand,” junior Kylie Andersen said last week. “We think going up against them, we have the potential to beat them, and
I think it’s going to be a really good gauge of where we are at this point in the season.”
Saturday’s results showed the Gophers aren’t quite ready to compete with elite teams like Washington or Stanford. But beating Oregon State in two of three afternoon races and topping Louisville in all of them is another sign the Gophers have improved from a year ago.
“We came into this weekend shooting for Louisville and Oregon [State]. The fact that we took down Louisville definitely improves our confidence,” Boileau said. “I definitely feel like that could boost our confidence going up against our other races.”
Whether it was unfavorable conditions or not being used to competition after a long period of time off, Minnesota started Saturday on the wrong foot. But after Davis’ message, the Gophers made the necessary adjustments to finish strong.
“We kept our character and we got better,” Davis said. “It showed. We beat teams we hadn’t in the morning.”