Hotkowski and Tallman ship in experience from the East Coast

Kent Erdahl

Recruited freshmen rowers Tracey Tallman and Rachel Hotkowski clung together at the beginning of the fall season because they had to adjust to the unfamiliar aspects of college rowing and life in the Midwest.

But in the final stretch of the spring season, the two East Coast natives have yet to adjust to one last unfamiliar aspect – losing.

Tallman, who won two state titles while rowing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Hotkowski, a national champion in singles competition from Old Lyme, Conn., both came to Minnesota after rowing for established and successful high school and club programs.

After training with the varsity in the fall, Tallman, Hotkowski and fellow freshman recruit Elizabeth Ponder joined Minnesota’s novice team in the spring, and helped it ride an impressive unbeaten streak of 9-0.

Despite the eventual success, Tallman and Hotkowski said they were concerned about the transition to life in the Midwest and rowing with walk-ons.

They turned to each other for support.

“We were like, ‘Oh, we should be roommates, because we’re both from the East Coast and we don’t really know what’s going on out here,’ ” Hotkowski said. “Coming in with girls that had never rowed before or stepped in a boat, we were like, ‘This is going to be real fun.’ “

Hotkowski said she and Tallman quickly settled in to their new home. But when practice started, four years of high school rowing could not prepare them for training with the varsity.

Tallman said a big difference between the Midwest and the East Coast became apparent when coach Wendy Davis put the team through a grueling practice on the very first day.

“When (Midwesterners) do something, they do it all,” Tallman said. “It’s all or nothing, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I have to work really hard.’ “

Tallman and Hotkowski quickly adapted to Davis’ coaching style and the team’s work ethic. They began to see the walk-on novices working with that same type of drive while learning how to row.

The novice team’s 3-0 record during the fall squelched any doubts the recruits had about their freshmen counterparts.

The undefeated record helped bring the walk-ons and recruits together coming into the spring. But Tallman and Hotkowski said the transition still takes time, because the learning curve was still there.

“It’s hard sometimes, and you get frustrated, because you know (how to do something), but everyone has to learn at their own pace,” Tallman said.

Despite occasionally being frustrated, Tallman and Hotkowski said, they are amazed at how nice the entire team has been and how quickly they’ve improved.

Sophomore Berit Tomten said she and the rest of the walk-ons have benefited from the recruits’ experience.

“Obviously, it’s good to have them, because they know what they’re doing,” Tomten said. “We can’t have a coach in the boat telling us what we’re doing wrong.”

Even though the coaches don’t get to see all of the coaching the recruits have done, they have still noticed their influence on a group of talented and vastly improved walk-ons.

Novice coach John Flynn said experience and athletically gifted walk-ons create a winning combination.

Flynn said the recruits have not only helped everyone learn, but have also meshed them together.

“They’ve been helping put the finishing touches on,” Flynn said. “Everyone learned how to row in the fall, but you learn how to race in the spring.”

As the stern pair of the first Novice Eight boat, keeping the team together during a race is Tallman’s and Hotkowski’s responsibility. To accomplish this, the tandem continues to rely on each other on and off the water.