Rowing gives competitors shot at varsity sport

The team requires no experience to try out and welcomes students from all walks of life.

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Mark Vancleave

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John Hageman

The recruiting process in many collegiate athletics can be long and tedious, with National Letters of Intent and verbal commitments becoming common terms in sports language. But for the Minnesota rowing team, there might not be a reason to go through this process at all. In some cases, becoming a member of the team may be as simple as showing up and trying out. Each fall, the team offers open tryouts to give women an opportunity to become a member of the novice team for the year, even without prior rowing experience. According to the team Web site, rowing is the only Division I sport at Minnesota that encourages athletes with no prior experience to join the team. âÄúRowing historically has always been a walk-on sport,âÄù Minnesota head coach Wendy Davis said. âÄúItâÄôs always had this whole novice division.âÄù The team is split up between novice and varsity teams, and athletes with limited to no prior rowing experience participate as a member of the novice team for a maximum of one year. Only a certain number of novice crew members are asked to come back to become a varsity member. Of the 50 novices participating at the Big Ten Championships on May 1, about 30 have had no prior rowing experience before they came to Minnesota, Davis said. With experience not an issue, the coaches look to physical ability and endurance during tryouts to determine who belongs on the novice team. Each novice has her own story, but many have come out of high school as athletes with no outlet for their competitive fix. Junior Quinn Anderson played hockey, soccer and golf in high school and said she didnâÄôt know what to expect from rowing as a novice last season. âÄúI had no idea,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúI didnâÄôt even know what rowing was pretty much two years before I started.âÄù After taking a break from sports during her freshman year, sophomore Ali Haws said she missed participating in competitive sports like she did in high school but said her first experience rowing during tryouts this fall was difficult. âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of little technique-type things that I didnâÄôt try before and didnâÄôt know was going to be important,âÄù Haws said. âÄúThat was the biggest thing, just how difficult it was and how hard the workouts were.âÄù Graduate assistant coach Liz Van Zeyl said coaches like to find athletes from endurance-based sports, and the women learn the technique of rowing throughout their first year. The facilities at the Minnesota boathouse are ideal for training the novicesâÄô technique and keeping them sharp during the long winter months. Constructed in 2007 , the boathouse features an indoor tank with 12 oars used to fine-tune technique, which, surprisingly for the novices, takes a lot of leg work. âÄúA lot of people donâÄôt realize that,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúI think itâÄôs 70 percent legs.âÄù For this reason, Davis said the coaches like to bring swimmers and cross-country skiers onto the team. But some walk-ons, including senior captain Jenna Schuder, may not have had any recent sporting experience before starting with the team. Schuder said she hadnâÄôt played competitive sports since junior high before coming on as a novice her freshman year. Schuder added that she received a postcard in the mail about trying out for the team when she was a freshman but was not sure if she wanted to take the leap. âÄúMy friend from high school who was also a freshman here said, âÄòLetâÄôs just do it,âÄôâÄù Schuder said. âÄúAnd IâÄôm still here.âÄù While not all of the members of the novice team decide to come back, including SchuderâÄôs friend, the now-captain was instantly hooked. âÄúIt was such a great experience,âÄù Schuder said. âÄúI fell in love with the sport.âÄù Davis said that along with recruited talent, walk-ons from the small towns of Minnesota have led to a lot of the GophersâÄô success, including a sixth-place finish at the 2007 NCAA championships. âÄúYouâÄôve got great athletes running around, but they just didnâÄôt get the right kind of coaching to do their sport at the Division I level, so they come here and we teach them from scratch,âÄù Davis said. The Gophers rowing team will head to the Lake Natoma Invitational in Gold River, Calif., this weekend and host a competition with Kansas on April 24 on Lake Phalen in St. Paul.