Second varsity eight earns national title

The Gophers’ rowing team finished sixth as a whole at the NCAA championships in Tennessee.

Nick Gerhardt

Coach Wendy Davis rarely makes bold predictions about her teams, but back in March she told Notre Dame coach Martin Stone that her second varsity eight boat had a shot at winning the national championship.

That very second varsity eight squad proved her right over the weekend by capturing the NCAA title in Oak Ridge, Tenn., with a time of 6:56.29 in the Grand Final, beating California by three seconds.

The Gophers grabbed the lead from the start of the race and held on the rest of the way to bring home the title.

“We were all thinking we couldn’t believe that we were ahead of Brown and the others who we had lost to earlier in the year,” senior Maggie Armstrong said.

The championship proved a fitting end for a team that had received little recognition before the year began.

“With several seniors on the second varsity eight, it was the best way to culminate their time,” Armstrong said.

Minnesota finished sixth overall in the NCAA Championships. All of their boats advanced to either the Grand or Petite Final.

“We were really excited about finishing sixth and being only one point behind fifth,” senior Jenny Barnes said. “This is as good as we could have done, and it’s really amazing that the second varsity eight won the championship.”

The first varsity eight won the Petite Final, coming from behind in the first 500 meters. Minnesota, a notoriously slow starter, had the slowest first 500 time but quickly picked up the pace and moved past the other boats to win the event.

“The announcer during the first varsity eight Petite Final said, ‘Minnesota is in sixth place, but watch out for the Gophers,’ ” Davis said.

It was the second year in a row that the first varsity eight made the NCAA Championships, and this time around they finished seventh, improving upon their eighth-place finish from last year.

“This year we were more confident,” Barnes said. “How we did this year is a real sign that Minnesota has something and that we’re really good.”

The first varsity four boat finished second in the Petite Final and finished eighth for the weekend.

“The first varsity four did as well as the first varsity eight last year,” Davis said. “They’re a boat that has gotten overlooked in the hype.”

The Minnesota team received numerous compliments from other coaches throughout the weekend for their rapid rise as contenders, Davis said.

Sunday proved a great day for the Gophers, not only in terms of the results, but also the camaraderie the team members showed toward one another.

“Part of the fun was the second varsity eight asking how the first varsity four did, and the first varsity eight asking how the two other boats did,” Davis said.

Davis said she will work this summer to help replenish the team. Minnesota graduates 13 seniors, but most of the second varsity eight members will return.

“We are starting to make our name,” Barnes said. “But we still have a long way to go to get to the top.”