Gophers jump out to strong start to season

The team spent spring break in Tennessee training and competing.

Minnesota's rowing team practices on the Mississippi River on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for its regatta against Iowa on Sunday.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota’s rowing team practices on the Mississippi River on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for its regatta against Iowa on Sunday.

Jack Satzinger

Minnesota finished last year’s spring season sixth out of seven teams at the Big Ten championships.

But this year, the Gophers started their spring slate quite a bit better, placing near the top at the Oak Ridge Cardinal Invite in Tennessee earlier this month.

The team’s first varsity eight boat kicked off spring break with a bang, placing first in last Saturday’s morning race against UCF, Oklahoma and Michigan State. Later that day, the Gophers came out on top against Oklahoma, Tennessee and Alabama.

“We’re substantially better than this point last year,” head coach Wendy Davis said. “They’re fit, and they know they’re fit because they put in the work. That’s the difference.”

Davis sounded pleased with the second varsity eight, which handily won both its races. Yale beat the second varsity eight last Sunday morning, but the group gutted out a very close finish against ranked Notre Dame, finishing in second place.

The first varsity eight boat of Taylor Gainey, Lisa Weeks, Madison Koch, Rebecca Braak, Lynn Hodnett, Sara Scarbro, Haley Bagley, Jessica Flakne and Kylie Andersen came in third to Yale and Notre Dame on Sunday. It was later named Big Ten Boat of the Week for its strong Saturday performance.

“We came into last weekend just knowing that having the first races of the season was going to be really exciting, and I think we handled that really well,” Hodnett said.

One of the first varsity eight’s times was impressively under six minutes; however, the water’s strong current at the regatta sped the Gophers up, skewing the time.

“Everyone posted times that were abnormally fast,” Hodnett said. “I shouldn’t discount anything that we did last weekend because it did feel very good for having less than a week of water time together.”

After last weekend’s races ended, the Gophers stayed in Tennessee for the remainder of spring break to take advantage of the warm climate and practice.

“It felt great to be on the water,” said Gainey, the first varsity eight coxswain. “At the end of the 10 days, it was just really encouraging to see how much improvement we had.”

Hodnett said the Gophers focused on improving specific techniques coming into the week of practice. And midway through its time in Tennessee, the first varsity eight broke through.

“There were practices where our boat … felt amazing. We had finally found that correct rhythm that we could all settle into,” Hodnett said. “We were still kind of finding ourselves as a boat during last week’s races.”

Since temperatures in Minnesota have warmed up in recent weeks, the Gophers should be able to consistently practice on the Mississippi River instead of on dry land.

And the water time will allow Hodnett, Gainey and the rest of the first varsity eight the opportunity to find that sweet spot it hit during its Tennessee workouts.

“We have to keep practicing that and remember how that felt,” Hodnett said. “So when the next set of races come up, we know we can feel that way.”