Gophers take 5th at Big Ten meet

Minnesota faced No. 1 Ohio State and and a strong Michigan boat in the first heat.

by Kent Erdahl

Minnesota’s fifth-seeded first Varsity Eight came into the Big Ten rowing championships over the weekend with hopes of cracking the top four after its qualifying heat.

But Minnesota’s heat featured No. 1 Ohio State and a powerful Michigan boat that were battling for conference supremacy.

Michigan won that battle, handing Ohio State its only defeat of the season and bouncing Minnesota to the Petite Final.

“I’m convinced that (Michigan and Ohio State) are in the top three or four in the country,” coach Wendy Davis said. “They were really pouring it on, and that can only help you.”

It appeared to help quickly, as the Gophers bounced back by winning the Petite Final over Iowa and Indiana.

The first Varsity Eight’s performance was similar to those recorded by the entire program en route to a fifth-place team finish Saturday at Solon, Iowa. Despite falling just short of the Grand Final in three events, the Gophers rebounded and finished first in all of their Petite Final races.

The second Varsity Eight also fell to the Petite Final, even though it posted the third-fastest time. However, all three fastest times were in the same heat, and the Gophers were bumped.

Fighting disappointment, the team came back with a dominating seven-second win over Iowa for fifth place.

Minnesota’s first Varsity Four added yet another fifth-place finish by finishing 20 seconds ahead of Iowa and Indiana, despite falling short of the Grand Final.

Davis said the races were representative of the conference’s strength, and she was proud of how the teams came back in the Petite Final.

“You really have to pick yourself up off the floor both physically and mentally, because you have to turn around and do it again three hours later,” Davis said. “I think everyone did exceptionally well with that.”

Minnesota’s second Varsity Four was the only varsity team to make the Grand Final.

The four missed finishing third by less than one-tenth of a second to Wisconsin.

Despite only competing in one varsity Grand Final, Davis said, the team performed well.

“When only four boats go to the finals in the toughest conference, there is no shame in finishing fifth,” Davis said.

Novices end season

The championships marked the end of the season for the Gophers’ novice boats, and both the first and second teams were determined to finish strong.

Minnesota’s first Novice Eight capped a dominating season with an open-water victory over the rest of the field.

The Gophers surged ahead at the start and pulled to a full-boat-length lead by the first 500 meters. The team finished eight seconds ahead of second-place Michigan State.

It was the first Grand Final victory in program history and completed an undefeated season in which the novices defeated nine different schools.

“When you row in such a competitive conference, winning a final in open water is pretty impressive,” novice coach John Flynn said.

The second Novice Eight also tried to complete an undefeated season but fell inches short in a battle against Wisconsin.

The two boats were close throughout, and they traded leads with each stroke in the final meters. Wisconsin took the final stroke and finished a half-second ahead of the Gophers.

“It was the kind of race where if the finish line were 6 inches closer or 6 inches further, we would have come out on top,” Flynn said.

Rowers honored

Seniors Melissa Roche and Jackie Gagner earned All-Big Ten honors at the championships Saturday.

Roche received her third-consecutive All-Big Ten first-team selection. Gagner achieved All-Big Ten second-team honors for the first time in her career.