Coach Davis sets sights high after dominant first meet

Minnesota cleaned up at the Head of the Mississippi meet on Sunday.

Andrew Krammer

The Gophers women’s rowing team hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2007.

At the Gophers’ first fall season meet Sunday, nearly eight months before the tournament, head coach Wendy Davis set the bar high for her squad this year.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the NCAAs,” Davis said. “But I absolutely believe we’re a team that has the potential to belong this year.”

From top to bottom, the Gophers conquered at the Head of the Mississippi meet, which featured only one other Division I squad, Drake University.

“It is more relaxed than our other races,” senior rower Ali Haws said.

In what Davis called more of an “intrasquad meet,” the Gophers looked to work on the logistics and subtle nuances of their craft as they dominated.

Davis said the simple act of walking through a meet helps prepare even the more experienced of her rowers.

“Just having the crowd and other crews here — it brings it up a notch,” Davis said.

Senior coxswain Emilie Sabourin said because the competition was waning, the Gophers had to find other ways to push themselves.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Minnesota racked up top-place finishes in nearly every event — often using the same rowers in back-to-back events.

“Pushing [the top boat] past what we’d normally do to see how we perform is key,” Sabourin said.

Haws said she saw some room for improvement.

“Overall, we executed,” Haws said. “But we need a bit more ratio — basically hitting harder when the oar is in the water so we can rest more on the recover.”

Davis said it served as a good practice run, but the real test will be next week when the Gophers face rivals Wisconsin and Iowa.

“There was great fight in all three of our [top boats],” Davis said. “At this point, it’s just a matter of getting fitter, stronger and more confident.”

Though Sabourin said Sunday’s meet helped polish a few things, she said the team doesn’t practice any different than it plays.

“We’re constantly drilling ourselves in practice, thinking, ‘What are Wisconsin and Iowa right now?’ and pushing ourselves,” Sabourin said.

Minnesota will travel to Rockford, Ill., for the Head of the Rock meet next Sunday.