Rowers feeling the brunt of spring NCAA violation

Aaron Blake

Minnesota rowing coach Wendy Davis’ deltoids must be stronger this season – and it’s not because she’s been hitting the oars more than usual.

Davis has been bearing 100 percent of the blame for last season’s unrealized goals on her shoulders. She’s determined to drop the load this spring.

Despite losing practices because of an NCAA violation and a moratorium on the construction of a new boathouse, a strong recruiting class bolsters a team that came up short of goals last season.

“We were all a little disappointed,” senior Heidi Rose said. “But we realize that things happen which are out of our control. Things happened, but it’s in the past, and we had to deal with the consequences of it.”

The Gophers will still feel the effects of Davis’ mistake this fall.

Per NCAA rules, Davis filed a play and practice declaration in March 2002 for the upcoming season. In August of the same year, she planned the squad’s first-ever winter training trip in January.

The violation occurred when Davis failed to alter the original play and practice declaration to coincide with the newly planned excursion. She realized her mistake while submitting this season’s declaration in March.

She reported the violation knowing she would stomach the consequences. Her team lost a day of practice every week for the entire racing season and will lose some practice time this fall as well.

“You can’t practice five days a week during the season and expect to improve,” Davis said. “It was 100 percent my fault. The rowers did everything they were supposed to do, including not getting discouraged.

“We really took it on the chin, and that was my deal. It was a shame because we were faster than crews that beat us in the weeks following.”

With a fresh start this spring, Davis has never been more optimistic about her team.

In addition to a formidable recruiting class, Davis is excited about Rose and fellow returning seniors Melissa Roche and Jill Peters.

Roche was a second-team All-America selection last season and shared All-Big Ten first team honors with Rose.

Peters teamed with Roche, Rose and fellow Gophers Katherine Nelson and Janette Gustafson to win the gold medal at the Intermediate Eights level at the United States Rowing Association National Championships in late July.

“Jill, Heidi and Melissa have been the best since they’ve been here,” Davis said. “But before this year, they didn’t know what they were doing – truly. They had never done the sport in high school. Since they couldn’t make those mistakes in high school, (the mistakes) come out in college.”

This is why Davis is excited about her first genuine recruiting “class” with significant prior experience.

Four freshman recruits will grace the roster. These include Rachel Hotkowski of the Old Lyme (Conn.) Rowing Club, Liz Ponder of the Cincinnati Rowing Club, Tracey Tallman of the Saratoga Springs (NY) Rowing Club and Erika Batcute of Lithuania.

This group will represent four of the five Minnesota rowers who were recruited by the program. The remainder of the rowers earned spots on the squad as walk-ons.

“What (the recruiting class) means is that the rest of us need to step it up,” Roche said. “The rest of us don’t want someone new coming in and taking our spot.”

Davis was able to seize such a recruiting class despite the moratorium that has halted the construction of a new boathouse since April 2002.

The moratorium swayed two Canadian recruits to attend other schools last year. It could not, however, prevent this season’s recruiting success.

Having learned her lesson, Davis swears that paperwork blunders will never again hamper her rowers’ success on the water either.