Second varsity eight stands out

University rowing team practices on the Mississippi River on April 14.

Daily File Photo, Liam James Doyle

University rowing team practices on the Mississippi River on April 14.

Jack Satzinger

Sophomore McKenzie Lukacs had to improvise during Minnesota’s second varsity eight on Sunday morning, as a heavy rain shower caught the rowers by surprise in the middle of the race.
 
The Gophers usually carry thick sponges to soak up water that gets in the boat, but the unexpected downpour flooded Minnesota’s watercraft, and water splashed at the rowers’ legs as they slid forward in their seats with every stroke. 
 
So Lukacs bent down and used her long-sleeve shirt to soak up the little water she could to help keep Minnesota afloat en route to a fifth-place finish. 
 
“And then I wrung it out,” Lukacs said. “I personally love rowing in the rain. Nothing’s more dramatic than having water falling on you, and you’re at the start waiting to go fast.”
 
Minnesota’s second varsity eight likely would have finished higher than fifth Sunday if it had carried sponges like most of its opponents did, but those rowers and
 
Minnesota’s first varsity four showed steady improvement at the Clemson Invite over the weekend. 
 
“Our first varsity four and our second varsity eight performed as well as we were hoping for,” head coach Wendy Davis said. “Our first varsity eight had just a horrible Saturday morning, and then they recovered well.”
 
The second varsity eight finished fourth in both of its Saturday races. Minnesota topped host Clemson in the morning with a time of 6:57.4 and then finished behind ranked Virginia, UCLA and Texas teams that afternoon. 
 
Mari Sundbo was the main force behind the second varsity eight’s solid performance. 
 
The Minnetonka native said it was tough to race in the rain without sponges Sunday.
 
Still, the boat’s body of work over the weekend showed that it is starting to gain some momentum. 
 
“We’ve really had a lot of great flow in the boat. Everyone’s working really hard and working well together, and I think as a unit we all want to go 100 percent every race,” Sundbo said. “Progressing from fall and the winter workouts, getting all that training in, has really paid off.”
 
Minnesota’s first varsity eight, led by Lynn Hodnett and coxswain Taylor Gainey, has also shown steady improvement this season, besting many of its times from last year. 
 
But the Gophers’ top boat didn’t have as much success as Davis would have liked over the weekend. Minnesota finished sixth out of seven teams in both Saturday races before ending on a bit of a high note Sunday, besting Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. 
 
“We learned a lot, and if our [first varsity] had done better Saturday morning, I’d come away pleased with the weekend, but that just leaves a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth,” Davis said. “I am very satisfied with what the second varsity eight did and what the [first varsity four] did. They performed the way we expected.”