Rowers aim to make impact at Big Tens

Jabari Ritchie

Until about two weeks ago, Minnesota’s rowing team was not expected to be a force in next weekend’s Big Ten championships. Despite a solid start to its second year of varsity competition, it took wins over Wisconsin and then-No. 19 Iowa in an April 20 double dual meet, suggesting Minnesota can compete with the conferences’ more-established programs.

At the Midwest Sprints the next weekend, the Gophers reinforced that statement with a trio of second-place finishes.

“I would say, up until last weekend, we were sort of the underdogs of the competition,” said junior Beth Hornby. “People really didn’t take us seriously, I don’t think, and they were kind of insulted that we came out and beat them like that.”

Minnesota, ranked fourth among Big Ten schools, will leave for the Michigan State-hosted conference championships by bus on Thursday morning. The event will take place Saturday at Lake Ovid in East Lansing, Mich.

After finishing sixth out of seven teams in last season’s conference championships, the Gophers expect to improve this year.

“Certainly for our top boat (our goal) would be a top-four finish,” said coach Wendy Davis. “As a team, I would hope that we could finish at least fourth and maybe in the medals.”

Although Minnesota has two remaining weekends of competition – the Big Ten championships and the Central/South Region championships on May 18 and 19 – its chances of reaching this season’s NCAA championships are slim.

Twelve schools are invited to the NCAA championships, and Minnesota has not cracked the top 20 nationally. One of the Gophers’ goals last season was to reach the national tournament within the next two years.

“Depending on how we do this weekend, I think it’s a possibility,” said Hornby, a transfer from the University of Winnipeg. “To even be thinking about it this year, being as young of a team as we are, is phenomenal.”

While a trip to the NCAA tournament in the program’s second year is a long shot, Davis says the Gophers are on the right track. Minnesota has the third-newest Division I rowing team in the nation and all but one of the schools in the Big Ten have maintained programs for several years.

“Indiana was added a year before we were added, but the rest of them were added in 1996 or 1997,” Davis said. “All the teams we’re going up against in the Big Ten have had five or six years’ worth of recruiting under their collective belt.

“I’m encouraged, and that’s why I took the job. We’ve got the river running right through campus and it is not subject to the freezing conditions. As soon as the river opens up – and it always opens up by early February – we can be rowingÖ. (Other schools) are on lakes and they have to wait for the lakes to unfreeze. There’s a huge advantage here and I have a great coaching staff, so this is not a surprise. In my mind, we’re right on target.”

Jabari Ritchie welcomes comments at [email protected]