U’s club crew teamamong nation’s best

by Ryan Schuster

It’s 6 a.m. sharp, barely light on the Mississippi River as the University men’s crew team begins practice. The sun is just beginning to rise in the sky through the cool, crisp May air.
“You wake up in a hurry out here,” said club president and Institute of Technology senior Pete Maiser, a member of Minnesota’s varsity four boat. “It can be 40 degrees in late fall or early spring, and we’re out there in T-shirts and shorts.”
It appears that it takes something extra to compete in this sport. In fact, crew has been described as being the ultimate team sport.
Wisconsin club coach Randy Jablonic once said that rowing is equivalent to eight guys hitting a golf ball with the same power and club swing, for the same distance, and hitting the same hole at the exact same time.
Jablonic was referring to an eight-man boat, not the four- and two-man boats the University’s club team competes in, but the comparison still fits.
“It’s not a glory sport,” said coach Tom Altenhofen. “Rowing requires maximum effort and minimal recognition.”
Crew remains relatively unknown in the Midwest but is more popular in the East, especially among Ivy League schools. Many schools out East have varsity squads that give out scholarships and can actually recruit players.
Even though Minnesota only has a club team, it is able to compete nationally against other clubs and even the top varsity teams.
“We are as good as anyone in the nation in the fours (varsity four, varsity lightweight four, novice/freshmen four),” said Maiser.
At last year’s IRA Regatta in Camden, N.J., the top U.S. rowing competition, Minnesota finished third in the novice/freshmen open four and seventh in the varsity-four competition.
The club team’s best-ever places in the two events at the IRA Regatta was a second-place showing in the novice/freshmen open four in 1993 and a third-place finish in the varsity four in 1987.
“I know 50 college programs that would give anything to have what Minnesota has,” said Mike Nicholls, a former Minnesota club team rower and the current coach for the North Carolina club crew team. “Minnesota produces more with 18 men than my team does with 50 athletes.”
Minnesota will compete on Saturday and Sunday at the Minnesota Rowing Classic at Lake Phalen in St. Paul before attending the IRA Regatta May 30-June 1.
“This weekend we will probably race with the intent of getting ready for the IRA Regatta next week,” said Maiser.
Maiser believes the varsity four boat has one of its best chances in club history of taking home a first-place trophy in New Jersey.