Big Tens success and boathouse buoy 2007 hopes

Minnesota finished second at the Big Ten conference meet Saturday and will have a boathouse next year.

by Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s rowing team’s second-place finish at the Big Ten Championships likely will “spark interest” come recruiting time, coach Wendy Davis said.

But the Gophers receiving an invite to the NCAA Championships at the end of the month could draw some of the best recruits in the country to Minnesota.

Either way, the team’s success this year, coupled with the construction of the team’s new boathouse that’s expected to be ready in the fall, means Minnesota’s rowing program is about to change.

“We also only graduate five seniors,” Davis said. “With that and the new boathouse, with those two things, I know we’re all just giggling with glee.”

The giggles haven’t been there in the past.

When recruits glance over Minnesota’s rowing program, they, in the past, couldn’t help but notice the downsides – no boathouse, cold weather and no Big Ten Championship.

But Saturday’s second-place finish has put the Gophers on a winning track, Davis said.

“Now we are a very attractive destination for a bona fide blue-chip athlete that cares abut her academic performance as well,” Davis said. “We are a really attractive place now.”

And Minnesota has had the blue-chip athletes in the past.

Although the Gophers coaching staff has been successful recruiting talent to the program, it has been just as successful in developing talent in walk-ons.

Katie Engel, a walk-on for the Gophers in fall 2002 and now a senior member of the team’s first varsity-four boat, said she can’t believe how far she has come.

“I walked on my freshman year and never looked back,” Engel said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

On Saturday Engel got into the first varsity-four boat with her teammates and won Minnesota’s first ever Big Ten varsity title.

The team’s second varsity-four followed that win with one of its own, and even one of the Gophers novice boats came away with a Big Ten title.

Engel said that if they can do all of that without the luxury of a boathouse, she can’t wait to see what the team does with the new facilities.

“With the addition of this boathouse, and how well we did, we’re going to draw in top-quality recruits,” Engel said. “It’s going to be different and better, I’m sure, but just as fun.”

Fellow first varsity-four member Tracey Tallman agreed with Engel and said an invitation to the NCAA Championships would add to Minnesota’s appeal.

“By doing all this hard work we hope we showed we deserve to go,” Tallman said. “We thought that last year, too, but hopefully the committee won’t overlook us this time around.”

Invite or not, the Gophers are thrilled with their accomplishments this season, Davis said.

Minnesota went from a fifth-place finish at last year’s Big Ten Championships to just nine points back of Ohio State for this year’s overall title.

“Those are the reasons why we tear up,” Davis said. “It’s because we know how far we’ve come. It’s like we’ve flown to the moon and back.”