Rowers eighth at NCAA Championships

C.J. Spang

After the first race in the NCAA Championships on Friday, Minnesota’s rowing team was right where it wanted to be, qualifying for Saturday’s semifinals.

But a stroke of bad luck caused the Gophers’ first varsity eight-boat to miss the Grand Final and instead compete in the Petite Final, where Minnesota finished second – earning their boat eighth place in the country.

Princeton won the first varsity eight Grand Final and California won the team title.

“I keep saying, last year we had the turning point, but this year we got to reap the benefits,” coach Wendy Davis said. “So from the beginning, from the fall races, we knew we were going to be fast and the way we were racing, you could just tell.”

The NCAA Championships began Friday with all 16 boats racing in three heats, with the top three boats in each heat advancing to the semifinals.

In the first heat, Southern California and Yale tied for third with times measured to one-thousandth of a second, putting four teams into the semifinals instead of three.

The Gophers raced in the second heat against four teams from the South/Central Region, plus top-ranked Princeton, and took third to qualify for the semifinals.

The fact that Minnesota had seen most of the teams before worked to their advantage, and the rowers felt that it was a big step for them.

“We kind of knew what to expect from them and we knew what we had to do,” junior Jennifer Barnes said. “We finally just executed and got the job done, and it was a really big step because once we got that we knew, ‘Oh yeah, we actually do belong here.’ “

But unfortunately for Minnesota, the draw determined that it belonged in the seven-boat semifinal with five of the top eight crews in the country.

Needing a top-three finish to advance to the Grand Final, Minnesota finished in fourth place with a time of 6:28.8190 – 1.402 seconds behind Washington State.

The Gophers’ time would have won the second semifinal by nearly two seconds.

“It’s exciting in the sense that here we were right in the hunt with the best teams in the nation,” senior Cheryl Wick said. “But yet it was disappointing to know that here that was 1.3 seconds away from being one of the top-six boats in the country.”

Despite the disappointment, Minnesota put on a solid display in the Petite Final.

“We’re not the fastest crew off the line, but we definitely strategize to have the second half of the race be our fastest half,” Davis said. “You absolutely have to pace yourself and make sure you don’t go out too hard.”

The Gophers fought their way into first place with 500 meters left in the race before battling back and forth with Notre Dame.

But Minnesota came up short, losing by 0.982 seconds to take eighth place out of all the first varsity eight-boats in the country.

But that experience at the NCAA Championships and the success the team had this year has them excited for next season.

“I think other crews out there are going to notice, ‘Wow, something’s happening in Minnesota,’ ” Barnes said. “We’re going to have to plan according to that, and it’s a good feeling, knowing that people are going to be watching out for you.”