Rowers journey to NCAA berth in full swing

by Nick Gerhardt

The Minnesota rowing team moved into its brand new $4.6 million-dollar boathouse in January, an investment which symbolizes a program on the rise.

The Gophers will get to show how much their new asset has paid off when they kick off the Big Ten schedule this weekend against Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

In the past, the Gophers housed their boats under a tent near the Mississippi River. Now, their state-of-the-art facility sits on the East River Flats Park on the banks of the Mississippi, equipped with an indoor tank for athletes to practice their strokes, rowing machines and locker rooms.

“It’s really nice to have the equipment in the same spot instead of three different places. We don’t have to run all over campus anymore,” senior captain Cheryl Wick said.

Before the new facility, the team practiced in Mariucci Arena, the Sports Pavilion and Ridder Arena, Wick said.

The building has allowed the team to train year-round, and the timing could not be better for the team as its looks to improve upon last year’s success. Minnesota sent its top varsity boat to the NCAA tournament last year, finishing in eighth place.

The team also achieved individual honors. Senior Jenny Barnes earned a first team All-American selection.

Senior Berit Tomten received recognition by earning a selection to the All-Region second team in addition to Big Ten honors.

Davis said she hopes to see more rowers gain recognition because they deserve it, but it will depend on their performance this year, she said.

The team returns 18 of their top 24 rowers from last year and 6 of 8 from their first varsity boat.

“We’re as mature a team as I’m going to have for a number of years,” coach Wendy Davis said. “We have a bunch of fifth-year seniors and a bunch of fourth-year seniors.”

The Big Ten should provide plenty of competition this year for Minnesota. The Gophers are ranked second in the conference, behind Ohio State, and 13th in the USRowing/Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Poll. Michigan, Wisconsin and the Buckeyes will all be a concern this season for the squad, Davis said.

Davis said this weekend’s regatta against the Iowa Hawkeyes will be a great opportunity to test the water with different lineups.

The team improved by leaps and bounds last year and looks to make further strides this year.

“We were surprised that we didn’t go [to the NCAA tournament] as a team because our team was strong enough,” Davis said. “Last year was the second-best finish for a first-time boat in the annals of the NCAA history.”

Junior Meg Flannery said the team looks to make a statement to the rest of the country that the Gophers should be considered serious contenders for a team berth to nationals.

But to accomplish that goal, it will take a team effort, Flannery said.

“Leadership is very spread out on this team,” she said. “You really can’t point to one leader, it’s a whole gang. There are 24 leaders.”