Gophersports.com sat down with rowing head coach Wendy Davis as she prepares her team for the rowing fall season. Rowing starts on Oct. 4 when the Gophers compete in their home fall regatta, the Head of the Mississippi at the East River Flats Park on the U of M campus.
Gophersports.com: Who do you see powering your First Varsity Eight after losing All-American Ashlee Vilmo?
Wendy Davis: We have three people returning from the 1V8. Lucy Mulvey was granted fifth-year eligibility, Cassie Drozynski and Jenna Schuder, with Jenna being our captain this year. All three of them are in a good position to be strong leaders for us. Cassie is only a sophomore for us and it’s nice for one of our younger rowers to take that role.
Can you talk about Jenna being a strong rower and her role as team captain?
WD: She’s one of the last ones from that Big Ten Championship year as she was on the novice team. She has been patiently working on her physiology. She’s was a walk on and when she started, had great ability, but needed to know how to use it. When you’re just learning to row, it takes time to get fitter and become fit enough to become a 1V8 contributor. She’s just entering her fourth year of rowing, but making great strides and I think she’s going to have a really good year. She rowed all summer and is not only going to be that much better technically, but also physiological to handle the water workouts. This should be a fun year for her. Jenna was voted by her teammates as a team captain. Her teammates are looking to her to be a leader on the water, but also someone who they can come to when they need help. I think Jenna wants to work in having as cohesive of a team that we can have.
Can you talk a little more in depth on your three Varsity Eight returners?
WD: The three of our returners are a nice contrast. Jenna is her second year in the Varsity Eight, but hasn’t even rowed for four years. She’s just starting her fourth year of rowing, where as Lucy rowed a couple years in high school and is now in her seventh year of rowing. Cassie is entering her fifth year of rowing as a sophomore. We’re going against some of the other top programs in the country and most of their people in the top boats are recruited athletes. A lot of them are in their seventh, eighth year of rowing. It just matters with their water time. I’m excited that we are getting to the point of having people to the 1V8 that have experience coming into the program, where in the other years we hadn’t. I’m not sure who is going to fill out the other seats. The junior class has a number of dynamic walk-on athletes, but the sophomore class is the best recruiting class that we’ve had. I’m looking forward to seeing who can handle the pressure and handle the day-to-day grind of that level.
Talk about jockeying rowers between your top three boats.
WD: I’m not sure where we’re going to put everyone just yet. We graduated 11 seniors last year, six of which were in the First Varsity Eight. I think the trick this year is having the people in the 1V that are just enough faster than the 2V. Some years, programs have two Second Varsity Eights and they just don’t have the speed in their top boat. That’s a tough position to be in and again, it comes down to who can handle the pressure and the workload. The 1V does work harder than the 2V8 and they work harder than the Varsity Four.
You lost your 1V8 coxswain in Erica Niemiec, but have a group of coxswains returning. Can you talk about them and who can fill Erica’s role?
WD: Ilana Ostrin is ready to fill the role as far as how she can help the athletes become better when they are in her boat. I’m hoping that she understands the external awareness needs to be much greater. She struggled with that last year, but if she can encompass everything she’ll have a great year. She’s ready, but there’s a big difference from high school to college and we just need to work on that. We’ve got a group of young coxswains from the novice group that are all returning. Linnea Trandem is studying abroad during the fall, but will be back during the spring. She’ll be a junior and has a lot of experience and will be very helpful during the championship season.
You have a good group of novice rowers returning. Can you expand on their potential?
WD: I think that because our sophomore recruiting class is so dynamic and that our juniors are so dynamic, they will have to be patient. We have people, like Alli Fast, Caitlin Boon, Kristin Anderson and Quinn Anderson who are all going to be helpful. It goes back to them having a high fitness level and being able to compete at that high level. It’s not there yet, and how could it be with only a year experience? A number of them, however, rowed over the summer and that’s going to be huge for them because you need a strong corps to handle the load. They are going to be in a much better spot then some because they’ve have three months of training heading into this season.
You’ve brought up off-season training a lot. How beneficial will it be to your team?
WD: We had a large group of rowers that rowed during the summer and we really haven’t had that many be able to do that the past couple of year and this offseason we did. We had over 20 people rowing in the offseason, whether it was here with the boat or rowing clubs or at home. That’s huge. Whether it pays dividends this year, we’ll find out, but I know it will in the upcoming seasons.
Where will Minnesota fit in the Big Ten scene and who will win the title?
WD: I really don’t know. The X Factor for us is the offseason rowing. On paper, we’re probably not going to be pushing to finish high in the Big Ten. We had a disastrous spring last year so they rowed more this summer then we did from November to March last year. I’m hopeful and anything can happen. In my mind there are the big four in our conference: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. You really don’t know until it happens who is going to win it. There are injuries and illnesses, like in any sport; it’s what it comes down to. Any one of them could win it and we’ll see where we fit in the end.