Feeling underranked, Gophers finish right where expected

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s rowing team met expectations this weekend against conference opponents Indiana and Ohio State in Bloomington, Ind.

Only there weren’t high expectations going in.

The 18th-ranked Gophers were favored over Indiana, but were big underdogs against fifth-ranked Ohio State.

The Gophers’ first varsity eight topped the Hoosiers by more than eight seconds in their first heat of the day before falling to the Buckeyes by just more than four seconds.

The narrow defeat has the Gophers feeling good about where they are heading into their next couple of weekends at home on Lake Phalen, including the Big Ten Championships on April 29.

“When you’re going up against No. 5, do you expect to beat them? No,” said coach Wendy Davis. “Do you expect to perform well? Yes. And we were pleased with our performance this weekend.”

Minnesota’s first varsity eight of Megan Flannery, Cheryl Wick at stroke, Berit Tomten, Laura Jatautaite, Vilma Stragyte, Jillian Casey, Jennifer Barnes, Erika Bartkute and Katie Biese clocked a winning time of 6:38.83 over Indiana in heat one.

The team shaved half a second off that time in a losing effort against Ohio State in their second heat, clocking a time of 6:38.2 to the Buckeyes’ 6:33.7.

Minnesota’s second varsity eight took second behind Ohio State in both of its heats as well.

But trailing the fifth-best team in the country by only four and a half seconds – while going stride for stride with them in the first 500 meters – is a step in the right direction.

“We struggled last week in the first 500 meters with our stroke-rate,” Casey said. “We made those corrections in practice and it showed as we stayed right with the No. 5 team in the country right up until the end.”

And after falling to UCLA by just two-tenths of a second last weekend even with their stroke-rate struggles, and only losing by four seconds to Ohio State, the Gophers feel confident and comfortable with where they’re at.

Comfortable, that is, with everything but their ranking.

“You wouldn’t believe all the coaches coming up to me saying, ‘We can’t believe where you are in the rankings,’ ” Davis said. “I mean, we beat Notre Dame handily in March and they’re ranked 12th in the country.”

Casey said that’s something more and more teams are making a note of.

“I think that those other schools are taking notice of us and realizing we’re better than our ranking says we are,” Casey said.

Although the team feels some coaches around the country have made the wrong vote in polls, the Gophers know they’ll have their chance to prove their critics wrong at home the next two weekends.

“I think it’s definitely an advantage to us,” second varsity eight member Sally Olson said. “Especially having a race in our own water before the Big Ten Championship in our home water; it could give us some extra confidence.”

And extra confidence might be something the Gophers desperately need if they hope to upset a fifth-ranked Ohio State team that had its number this weekend.

“We get two more shots at them,” Davis said. “Of course, they’re thinking they get two more shots at us.”