Gophers to face No. 1 Ohio State

Senior Lynn Hodnett practices with the rowing team on March 23 in the Mississippi River.

Daily File Photo, Juliet Farmer

Senior Lynn Hodnett practices with the rowing team on March 23 in the Mississippi River.

Jack Satzinger

One theme has consistently stood out during MinnesotaâÄôs spring season: improvement. After a long winter stunted their development last year, the Gophers continue to best their marks from a 2014 season that ended with a second-to-last-place Big Ten finish. While MinnesotaâÄôs steady improvement from last season to now is undeniable, the teamâÄôs progress will be put to the test at No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. âÄúIt makes us stronger âÄî racing the fastest team in the country,âÄù junior coxswain Taylor Gainey said. âÄúWeâÄôre trying to match their speed for as long as we can, and that only helps us out.âÄù The Buckeyes have won two consecutive national championships. And the last time the Gophers faced them at Big Ten championships, Ohio State bested MinnesotaâÄôs first varsity eight by more than 20 seconds. âÄúBack-to-back national champions is a tough thing to go up against,âÄù senior Lynn Hodnett said. âÄúWeâÄôre just mostly expecting to just race our race.âÄù When teams go up against an elite opponent, oftentimes itâÄôs difficult to focus on the task at hand while the adversary zips through the water with ease. âÄúItâÄôs very mental having an extremely fast boat next to you and just keeping inside your boat and focusing on your own race rather than what the other boat is doing,âÄù Hodnett said. The nervousness that some teams experience against top competition can creep in before a race even begins. âÄúWhen you go up to the start, you know that theyâÄôre fast and that theyâÄôre very well-trained in racing and that theyâÄôre very confident,âÄù Gainey said. While the Gophers will have to cope with the mental struggles that can come with facing a powerhouse like Ohio State, they competed against top 10 programs Stanford and Washington last weekend in Oregon. The Gophers hope seeing how elite teams like that operate can help them this weekend and moving forward. âÄúThey were very clean, and IâÄôm assuming pretty much all of the girls who we raced against have had a lot [more] practice âÄî technical practice âÄî than weâÄôve been able to have,âÄù Hodnett said. On top of SaturdayâÄôs race against Ohio State, Minnesota will also take on conference-newcomer Rutgers. While besting the Buckeyes will be an uphill battle, Rutgers poses a much more manageable threat. With the improvement the Gophers have made this season, theyâÄôre hoping to steadily rise up from the bottom of the conference. Overcoming Ohio State this season might be unrealistic, but moving up the ranks to challenge teams like Wisconsin and Michigan would mark notable strides of improvement. âÄúI feel good. WeâÄôre in the hunt,âÄù head coach Wendy Davis said. âÄúWeâÄôre at the bottom of the very good schools, and weâÄôre working our way up.âÄù The Gophers are looking forward to racing a few Big Ten teams as a way to quantify the improvement theyâÄôve made this year. âÄúItâÄôll be good to see where we stand,âÄù Gainey said. âÄúWe havenâÄôt raced Big Ten teams yet.âÄù