Trio of freshmen steps in sooner than most for Gophers’ varsity boats

Freshmen like Laura Jatautaite, Tina Cho and Megan Flannery are rare on varsity.

Emily Wickstrom

They come from vastly different backgrounds, but Megan Flannery, Laura Jatautaite and Tina Cho have all found themselves in unfamiliar territory as freshmen on Minnesota’s rowing team – contributing on the varsity boats.

Flannery is a coxswain from a small rowing club in Rochester, Minn.; Jatautaite rowed on the Lithuanian National Team and Cho began rowing at a new program in Chicago.

Traditionally, both recruited and walk-on freshmen spend a year with the novice program to the Gophers’ techniques and the challenges of balancing academics and athletics, Gophers coach Wendy Davis said.

And, Davis said, having freshmen in varsity boats is uncommon at most schools – which makes the freshman trio’s feat more impressive.

In the program’s five-year history, only one other freshman has rowed in a varsity boat.

But this season, Davis said she felt she had three freshmen ready to contribute immediately.

“They are in the varsity program because they’ve been the best able to handle the workload and the pressure that’s on you when you’re on varsity,” Davis said. “The novice year is always fun Ö but on varsity you’ve got to perform.”

Flannery and Jatautaite are rowing on the first varsity eight, and Cho is on one of the varsity four boats.

All three said they expected to make varsity when they came to Minnesota.

“It was my goal for sure,” said Jatautaite. “Then I came here, and my technique was way different. Rowing styles are different in each country. It was difficult.”

At the beginning of the season in September, Davis said, she did not expect Jatautaite or Flannery to make the first varsity eight. But both started to stand out in mid-October, and it was clear by the team trip to Tennessee in March that both belonged in the best boat, she said.

Cho said that incoming freshman recruits help improve everyone on the team, because they know what it is like to row in competitive races.

“Coming in (as a freshman), of course you’re not going to have the physical fitness or capabilities of a 22-year-old,” Cho said. “However, what we do bring to the team is race experience, knowing how to react to race conditions.”

Though Davis said it is impressive to be on varsity as a freshman, she cautioned that Flannery, Jatautaite and Cho have a lot of work in front of them.

“By the end of their sophomore year, any sort of high school (rowing) advantage is gone,” Davis said. “Then, it’s who are the most talented athletes out here.”

Regardless of what boat each of them rows in, all three said they were excited about where the Minnesota program is going.

And they’ll have a lot of time to see whatever progress the team can make.

“We have a lot of potential, and we’re actually filling it this year,” Cho said. “That’s something I want to be part of. Building a dynasty.”