Shells cruise to success on Mississippi

Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota rowing coach Wendy Davis said she is pleased with how her team has progressed this fall.

But after an impressive showing this weekend at the Head of the Mississippi regatta, Davis said she isn’t quite sure how her team stacks up on the national rowing scene.

“Some years you’re fast but everyone else is faster. And some years you’re slow and everyone else is slower,” Davis said. “But I’m very pleased with how we performed.”

The Gophers – the only Division I school in the event – found their stiffest competition came from within.

Instead of putting out boats of different skill levels, Davis chose to split the crew into two even boats in the women’s Open Eight flight.

“I kind of just let them beat up on each other,” Davis said.

Minnesota dominated the varsity eight races. The Gophers placed first, second and third in the Open Eight race.

Minnesota’s A boat consisting of coxswain Leah Gross, Berit Tomten, Jillian Casey, Jennifer Barnes, Erika Bartkute, Katie Engel, Maggie Armstrong, Tina Cho and Megan Stuhlfaut won the Open Eight contest with a time of 14 minutes.

The Gophers’ B boat finished second in 14:11.

Minnesota also put out a third boat, which finished in 14:45.

The Minneapolis Rowing Club finished fourth overall in 14:53, nearly a minute behind the Gophers’ top boat.

“I think one of the reasons we boated mixed lineups today was so that we’d have that extra competitive edge,” sophomore Tina Cho said. “And I think all the boats really stepped up today.”

At first, captain Cheryl Wick said she was hesitant about the idea of shaking up the roster.

“I was kind of skeptical,” she said. “We had never done anything like it before. Then I was like, ‘well, it’s good,’ because it gives us a lot more competition.”

Senior Katie Engel said she thought mixing up the lineup brought extra motivation to the race.

“Having even boats was a good way to see what we could do against each other as well as the other teams,” Engel said. “It was like a little friendly rivalry.”

And who can blame the Gophers for being fired up this early in the season.

Minnesota – ranked No. 15 in the nation last season – felt a NCAA tournament bid looked favorable last spring, yet were denied a berth.

And while it still may be too early to tell, Cho said the committee, along with other national rowing powerhouses, should take notice.

“I don’t know what the other teams look like, so I don’t have much for comparison,” she said. “However, we are in a much stronger position right now than we were last year, and if that’s anything to go off of, people should be paying attention.”

Outside themselves, the Gophers largest competition came from local rowing clubs.

The Minnesota Boat Club won the Open Four race with a time of 15:49. The Gophers entered one boat in that event, finishing fourth overall with a time of 16:26.

Minnesota’s novice A team finished second in the women’s Novice Eight race with a time of 17:25, second behind the Minneapolis Rowing Club.

“It felt great to finally duke it out with other teams,” Cho said. “This was a great first race, a good confidence booster, and it allowed us to identify and tweak our problems without much pressure. As well as fine tune our race plan.”