Minnesota rowing coach Wendy Davis said it plainly. She is more excited about this year than any of the other three years she has been with the Gophers.
And she has reason to be. Rowing is beginning its fourth year as a varsity sport, and Minnesota’s senior class is made up of rowers who have been with the program since it was only a club sport.
Narrowly missing the national top-16 school cut last year to make the NCAA championships, this year’s team is poised to make a run for that goal – and a little more.
“We are hoping that we can not only make the (NCAA) championships, but also to do well,” Davis said.
Three years ago, Minnesota became the seventh rowing team in a solid Big Ten conference, with schools such as Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State – all of which were top-10 programs in the nation last year.
Finishing sixth last year in the Big Ten Championships and 10th in the regional sprints, the Gophers narrowly missed the NCAA championships.
Now, the Gophers are ready to make a splash in the conference as they return a core group of seniors who have been with the program since day one.
One of these is senior team captain Heidi Rose.
“Going from club to varsity, we have stepped up the intensity a couple notches,” Rose said. “Our goal is to show how far we have come in the last three years.”
One of the things Davis directly points to is the team’s level of rowing. The goal is to have the highest level of rhythm and motions, which the team likes to call “great rowing.”
“The great rowing is kind of like dunking a basketball,” Davis said. “Once you finally do it, it’s a lot easier to do it on a regular basis.”
And, Davis said, the team is finally at that point where it is achieving the nirvana of rowing on a more consistent basis.
“It gets to the point where the sum of the whole is greater than the part, and instead of eight rowers, it feels like there are 10,” Davis said.
Out of the water, the team is trying to get more rowers on a national level of power.
Using machines that measure power output for rowing, two women from the team were in the range of the highest national standards last year.
This year, Davis is hoping at least six women from the team will be in the national range and catch the attention of Olympic coaches.
But the Gophers are proud of where they are. Going from the club sport scene to a team contending for a top-16 spot in the nation in a matter of three years is a big jump. And the team is confident they belong there.
“We want to show everyone that we have worked hard and deserve to be where we are,” Rose said.
The have the chance to prove that as they take part in the Head
of the Rock in Rockford, Ill., on Sunday.
And with significantly stronger programs like Wisconsin, Iowa and Notre Dame, they’ll need to have a rowing slam dunk and achieve some “great rowing” nirvana.