Davis has Gopher rowers making considerable waves

Brad Unangst

When Minnesota’s women’s rowing head coach Wendy Davis took over the Gopher program two years ago, she had expectations of making the Gophers a top five program in the country.

To reach her goal, Davis faced the challenge of taking a club team consisting of non-scholarship athletes and turning it into a competitive varsity program.

“I definitely looked at this place candidly because I didn’t want to move my family across the country and be mediocre,” said Davis, who coached national team members in preparation for the 2000 Olympics. “[But] I think we can win a national championship here.”

Minnesota hosts a regatta this weekend, taking on the University of St. Thomas. Davis said the regatta will be Friday at 3:30 p.m. or at 11 a.m. Saturday or Sunday.

The Gophers have not been recognized nationally since 1985, when they finished third in the National Collegiate Championship. The varsity-club program was discontinued in 1986, but remained a club sport on campus until it gained varsity status in 2000.

Now in its second varsity season under Davis, the team has started making waves among rowing programs with a third-place finish at the 2001 NCAA Central/South Regional Championships and impressive regular season finishes against nationally ranked teams such as Wisconsin and Michigan.

Davis called the team’s success amazing considering the number of collegiate rowing teams increased from 60 to 150 since women’s rowing became a NCAA sport in 1996.

Even with the growth of collegiate rowing, Davis, like many coaches, finds it difficult to recruit rowers because exceptional high school rowers are a precious commodity. For Minnesota, additional recruiting difficulties stem from not having a boathouse to show recruits the University’s commitment to success.

As a result, Davis has found creative methods to bring in athletes, including the recruitment of more athletic Canadian rowers.

Davis said senior Beth Hornby is the type of athletic rower she prefers.

Hornby, a rower since age 13, transferred to Minnesota from the University of Winnipeg. She is the Gophers most experienced and decorated rower, earning All-Big Ten first team honors in 2001 and winning 2001 Rowing Canada Aviron Sculler of the Year.

Davis also recruits other endurance sport athletes, including swimmers, distance runners and cross-country skiers.

Sophomore Melissa Roche was recruited by the University’s cross-country program, but after talking with Davis, she decided to pursue rowing.

Rowers must work together as a whole unit and stay focused for the entire 6.5 minutes of a race.

As a part of their training, the rowers must be on the water everyday to practice. In Minnesota, winter weather does not always allow for such opportunities, so the team is forced indoors to practice on stationary rowing machines called ergometers.

Davis said the ergometer is a great training device because it is electronically calibrated to show a rower how hard she is pulling and how fast she is going. It is an opportunity for the team to increase their endurance without being exposed to adverse weather.

With all of the recruiting and training issues aside, the Gophers are ready to make a run at the Big Ten Championship this season, and hopefully the NCAA Championships.

“We’re going to continue what we started this fall,” Davis said. “We’re going to be legitimate this year.”