Rowing team to compete in NCAAs for first time

Strong camaraderie and a group of able upperclassmen led the team to success.

by Nick Gerhardt

Minnesota’s rowing team sat in coach Wendy Davis’ office last Tuesday anxiously awaiting a phone call.

They waited for the NCAA to tell them if they made the field of 15 to compete for the national rowing championship.

The Gophers heard good news from the other end of the phone that day, earning the first team bid in school history to the NCAA Championships.

Minnesota will compete against the nation’s top teams in Oak Ridge, Tenn., May 25-27.

“I think it’s the biggest accomplishment we’ve ever had here,” senior Erika Bartkute said.

The accomplishment has been seven years in the making for the Gophers since the program started in 2000.

And with a strong upperclassmen presence on the team, the bid resonates even more strongly.

“We’ve been working the last nine months for this as a team, and for me it’s been the last three years,” junior Mary Ann Weinzierl said. “Along the way, we’ve all gained more and more confidence.”

Team members said they have learned about themselves and each other along the way, making a cohesive unit.

“We’ve grown closer as a team throughout the years because we’re an older team with a lot of seniors,” Weinzierl said. “With everyone knowing each other so well, you have everybody motivating each other to pull harder and find an extra gear.”

Minnesota will race their first varsity eight, second varsity eight and first varsity four boats in the competition, and they said they’re prepared for the tall task at hand.

“The girls are ready, they’re healthy and they know what to expect,” Davis said.

The Gophers sent their first varsity eight boat to the NCAA competition last year, but this year they look to prove worthy of a team bid.

“We set our status last year,” Bartkute said. “This is a big step for us as a program. The difference is two times greater than last year because we have to prove we’re worthy of nationals.”

The competition will prove tough and all the races will be close at nationals, but Minnesota showed strong preparation throughout the week and team members said they feel ready for their opposition.

“We worked hard on our technique, start and sprint,” Bartkute said. “Everybody worked their way to nationals and we know it’s not going to be easy; we’re going to have to fight.”

The Gophers completed regional races in Oak Ridge on May 12-13. That time, Minnesota advanced all their boats to the Grand Finals and finished sixth. The second varsity eight fared the best for the Gophers by finishing second.

With the NCAA Championships taking place at the same venue, Minnesota has started to feel comfortable there.

“It’s a lot of fun for us at Oak Ridge,” Davis said. “It’s almost like home water for us because we’ve raced there before.”

The Gophers garnered other honors in addition to the NCAA bid as Davis won Big Ten Coach of the Year for the second year in a row and Jenny Barnes received the Big Ten Athlete of the Year award for the first time in school history.