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Gophers hopeful to secure first Big Ten Championship in program history

The Minnesota rowing team will attempt to come home from this weekend with hardware from the Big Ten Championships.

Historic hardware, to be exact. With a solid performance, the Gophers could earn their first conference championship in school history.

“We’re the fastest we’ve ever been and the most confident,” junior Lauren Van Proosdy said. “We need that confidence to win the Big Ten and keep the program moving in the right direction.”

Eighth-ranked Minnesota will compete against rivals No. 3 Ohio State, No. 12 Michigan and No. 19 Michigan State for the coveted conference title on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

The Gophers have not faced any of those teams this spring, and Ohio State remains a perennial contender for winning the Big Ten title.

Minnesota earned high seeds in the event. Their first varsity eight gained the No. 2 seed, while the second varsity eight and first varsity four captured the No. 1 seeds.

Despite the high rankings, the Gophers feel like they have a lot to prove against their conference foes.

“No one really expects us to win, and we still feel like underdogs,” junior Mary Ann Weinzierl said.

A strong showing at the championships would speak volumes about how far the program has come in recent years.

The team has endured hardships along the way to becoming a viable Big Ten title contender. In years past, they practiced anywhere they found space on campus, whether it was Ridder Arena or under a leaky tent near the river.

“The title would mean a lot to the program,” Van Proosdy said. “This is our first year in the new facility, and it has helped to get us going in the right direction. As a team, we’ve been through a lot, and it’s nice to see that we’re finally getting recognition.”

Minnesota has once again worked on its sprint during practice in order to compete in the championships.

“We’ve been trying to nail down our sprint and prepare for our opponents, but you can’t practice defense in racing,” coach Wendy Davis said.

Instead, Davis said the Gophers turned to practicing on situational things, like rowing from behind in a race.

While the conference championship might look nice in a trophy display, Minnesota has set its sight on bigger prizes.

“The Big Tens are just one step to the NCAAs, and we’re just checking one thing off the list,” Weinzierl said.

Van Proosdy added that after being left out of the national tournament last year, the team has a lot to fight for.

“In the winter, we laid out some strong team goals because we felt cheated on a team bid to the NCAA tournament last year,” she said. “This year we want a team bid.”

The first varsity eight reached the tournament last year and a team bid remains in focus for Minnesota this year.

After the Big Ten Championships, Minnesota will move on to Central Regional Sprints on May 12 and 13 in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Following that, the Gophers hope to head back to Oak Ridge on May 25-27 to compete in the NCAA championships.

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