Mild winter provides Gophers a head start

Coxswain Taylor Gainey coordinates and guides the boat at a rowing team practice on the Mississippi River on March 23, 2015.

Juliet Farmer, Daily File Photo

Coxswain Taylor Gainey coordinates and guides the boat at a rowing team practice on the Mississippi River on March 23, 2015.

by Mike Hendrickson

It was a mild winter in Minnesota this year, which is very good news for the Gophers rowing team.
 
 
The tame weather meant more time outside on the water for the team instead of indoor practice on rowing machines.
 
 
“Imagine a tennis player using a badminton racket, and that’s all they use up until their match, and then you hand them a tennis racket. It’s different,” head coach Wendy Davis said. “That’s what it is when we’re on the rowing machines. It’s the same motion, but it’s a completely different apparatus, completely different everything.”
 
 
The Gophers got on the water in late January, and with all the extra outdoor practice, Davis said this is one of her most prepared teams in years.
 
 
“We’re miles ahead both in boat speed and how we look and our confidence,” Davis said. “For sure, we’re fitter, stronger and faster than we’ve been in quite some time.”
 
 
Senior Jessica Flakne, a team captain on the first varsity eight, said this is the most time the team has spent on the water before a season since her sophomore year.
 
 
“You lose a little bit of the ability to blend with your teammates [out of the water] because it’s pretty individual on the [rowing machine],” Flanke said. “Spending more time in the water allows us to practice [balance and blending], which are critical to our speed.”
 
 
All of the extra water time gives senior Taylor Gainey, the coxswain on the first varsity eight, high expectations for the team this season.
 
 
“Everyone’s doing really awesome,” Gainey said. “We just started two-a-days this week, and everyone’s in hanging in there and showing up to practice at 6 a.m. It’s really awesome to see.”
 
 
The Gophers spent spring break practicing in Tennessee, as they competed at the Cardinal Invitational in Oak Ridge and had a scrimmage in Knoxville.
 
 
Flanke said the team worked on their catches, which is the part of the stroke where the blade of the oar enters the water.
 
 
“We made a ton of strides over spring break,” Flanke said. “We focused on our blade work and catches, which really increased our boat speed.”
 
 
The team’s second competition this spring will be the Doc Hosea Invitational in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Sunday.
 
 
The Gophers are sending three boats to the event, and Davis said she likes the makeup of the second varsity eight. 
 
 
There are five sophomores, two juniors, one senior and one graduate student in the boat.
 
 
 “They’ve got a really nice mix of good athletes and walk-ons,” Davis said. “There are five sophomores who are really good already and are just going to get better and 
better.”
 
 
They will get to compete against other northern schools like Syracuse and Boston University at the Doc Hosea Invitational, something Davis said she likes about the event.
 
 
“It gives us a chance to go up against other programs who deal with winter and are good,” Davis said. “It lets us see where we’re stacking up.”