Gophers eye grand finals for varsity-eight

Minnesota hasn’t qualified for the grand finals in first varsity-eight since 2002.

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s rowing team’s first varsity-eight haven’t qualified for the grand finals at the Big Ten Championships since 2002.

Instead the Gophers’ top boat has taken first place in the petite finals each of the past three years.

Last year Minnesota missed the grand finals by just more than a second, with Wisconsin edging them out.

So as the 17th-ranked Gophers prepare to host the Big Ten Championships for the first time Saturday at Lake Phalen, first race set for 8 a.m., they have the grand finals in their sights.

And again, Wisconsin is in their way.

“Last year it was Wisconsin and us duking it out down to the wire,” first varsity-eight stroke Cheryl Wick said. “We were about a second short last year, and this year I think we’re more than a second better.”

Wick said that when she and her teammates talked about goals and expectations for this weekend’s meet there was one common necessity – beat Wisconsin.

“We need to beat Wisconsin,” Wick said. “The first race is the biggest, and we know we can beat them. I really think that the team this year is rowing better than we were last year at this time.”

Second varsity-eight member Tina Cho echoed similar sentiments about her boat.

Cho said that the second varsity-eight boat is as prepared as they’ll ever be, and now it all comes down to execution.

“Everything we’ve done so far in preparation has been on target,” Cho said. “But what we’ve been working on now is execution, because we know we have what it takes, it’s all there, but can we put it all together on race day.”

Minnesota had everything working for it last weekend, as it bested Boston University and Kansas at home on Lake Phalen.

The Gophers won four of their five races last weekend, including the first varsity-eight’s five-second win over Boston. They topped Kansas by 13 seconds.

The performance was good enough to earn Minnesota its second boat of the week honor.

The Gophers’ first varsity-four began the season with Boat of the Week honors after beating Louisville.

“I think we’re as confident as we’ve ever been,” Cho said. “We aren’t overconfident, but we know what we have to do and we know we’re capable of doing it.”

Coach Wendy Davis said that confidence is something everyone else in the field has going for them as well, but what they don’t have, she said, is the comfort of their own beds.

“The nice thing is that any other year we’d be heading for the airport right now,” Davis said. “So we have that advantage, we’re on our home course with hopefully a big home crowd.”

But when Minnesota hosts Wisconsin, there’s as much red in the crowd as there is maroon.

“We’re ranked ahead of Wisconsin, so our goal is to stay ahead of them,” Davis said. “Then we go after Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.”