Offseason work, weather helps Gophers

Lower temps have helped Minnesota get more outdoor work in this year.

by Jack Satzinger

Before heading to Tennessee to compete in the Oak Ridge Cardinal Invite earlier this month, the Gophers spent three days practicing on the Mississippi River.

With the river frozen solid this time last year, that precious water time was nonexistent, and Minnesota’s performance in regattas suffered as a result. But now, after a productive offseason — and a little help from Mother Nature — the Gophers have a much more favorable 2014-15 spring outlook.

“We had a really tough spring last year because we couldn’t get on the water at all,” senior Lynn Hodnett said. “It was obviously disappointing, but it was kind of expected.”

The Gophers are forced to stay indoors and pull away on erg machines in the University of Minnesota Boathouse during winter months. That training, in addition to other conditioning workouts, helps them stay in shape.

But something else helped the Gophers come into this spring season in better shape than usual — individual workouts outside of scheduled practices.

“I just think the biggest thing was people doing workouts on their own,” junior coxswain Taylor Gainey said. “Everyone worked really hard on their own time. … Definitely, it was better than previous years.”

Gainey’s role as a coxswain involves steering the boat and giving orders to those rowing, so her offseason was slightly different from her teammates. The Pickerington, Ohio native said she ran a lot and did other cardio to stay in shape for the spring slate instead of spending time on the ergs.

When Gainey and the rest of the Gophers returned to scheduled workouts and began their 2,000-meter and 6,000-meter physiology tests, the impact of their extra conditioning was quantified.

“All year long we’ve been breaking records on our physiology tests,” head coach Wendy Davis said.

Last year’s performance might have been a driving force for Minnesota’s more productive offseason. The Gophers placed second-to-last at the Big Ten championships in May. Two weeks before that, Gophers parents crowded Lake Phalen’s shores in St. Paul to see Minnesota’s sole home regatta of the season against rival Wisconsin.

But the Badgers beat Minnesota handily in every single race.

“I think we had a lot more of a drive to push ourselves because last year did not really end up the way that we wanted it to,” Hodnett said.

While extra conditioning is important, it doesn’t matter how fit a team is unless it has adequate time to nail down technique in the water. The water tank in the boathouse provides the Gophers a decent simulation to actual competition, but it’s nowhere near the real thing.

The blades on the paddles in the tank are different, the water isn’t nearly as deep and it doesn’t have a current.

“While we have the tank as a tool, it’s miles away from being on the water,” Hodnett said. “It’s just a very different feel.”

As temperatures have warmed early this spring, Minnesota has spent plenty of time on the water, and Gainey said the team’s technique is noticeably better. Combine that with the added focus in the offseason and the Gophers could make much more noise in conference play this year.

“I think a lot of the team has figured out that there is another level that they can reach,” Hodnett said. “Sometimes when you’re doing an erg test and you’re going along and you’re dying, you’ve pretty much suddenly realized there’s another level that [you] can take this to and [you’re] ready to go there. You just know that you can go faster and you do.”