Sept. 29, 2011
Gophersports.com recently sat down with head rowing coach Wendy Davis as she prepares her team for the fall rowing season. The Golden Gophers open their fall slate Sunday, Oct. 2, when they compete in the Head of the Mississippi at East River Flats Park on the U of M campus.
How does the fall season differentiate from the spring season?
"During the fall season, the races are over twice the length of the spring races. So, they are 5,000-meter races instead of the 2,000-meter races that we have in the spring. The spring is the season that the NCAA counts, but this time of year everyone is training for long distances and so it's nice to have races that show what your fitness level is over those longer distances.
"The fall races are timed, so they are almost always on rivers, always against the current and the boats start about 10 second apart. So, you are trying to pass the boat in front of you and you are trying not to get passed, but ultimately it's all about time. It is a mental challenge because you have no clue where you are in the pack. But, it's fun and it's very mentally challenging. It is really neat to see the team develop that mental toughness that they need."
What are some of the advantages to competing in the fall?
"It's hard to stay motivated unless you know that you have a race coming up. Plus, it's also hard to gauge how much you are improving, if you're staying on track or if you're falling behind unless you face other teams. When you race and things don't go well, then you know it. Whereas, if it's during an intrasquad scrimmage the team cannot tell for sure if they are racing to the best of their abilities. This way, our best boats are going up against their best boats."
Who do you anticipate will improve the most over the fall season?
How do you think your fall schedule will prepare the team for the spring?
"Our freshman certainly will, and our new additions to the varsity roster. There is the strength and the fitness aspect to rowing, but then there is also who is the most effective with putting that power and fitness against the water. If you can't get that oar in the water the right way and keep it the right way, it doesn't matter how strong and fit you are. We have a lot of really strong freshmen and some really strong sophomores, who were on the novice team last year, who haven't figured out yet how to find it. But, they just haven't taken enough strokes out on the water. We are watching them kind of rubbing our hands together and thinking that big things are coming."
"We are doing something different for the first time this year. We are only doing two fall races, where normally we do four to five. We're only doing two, one of which, of course, is the Head of the Mississippi this weekend, but then we are shifting two of our race dates to February. One will be the second weekend in February and one will be the last weekend in February. We want to shift more toward 2,000-meter racing and getting water time when we historically don't get it. So, that is a huge shift, but I think that it's going to pay off for us come May."
What can fans expect from this year's team?
"They are going to be attacking every stroke that they take in a race situation. So, fans can expect to see good, hard, aggressive rowing."
Since last spring, who do you think has improved the most over the offseason?
"I would say Ali Haws. She was on our second varsity eight last year and she has emerged this year because she rowed last summer at the development camp. She really figured it out over the summer. She has always been a good athlete, but she has been here when the program has suffered from lack of water time and so she hasn't taken as many strokes as most novices and sophomores. So, last summer with six extra weeks, about two weeks into the camp, the light bulb just turned on. She is night and day different from May.
"I would also say Katherine Windsor, who has moved up to varsity from the novice squad. She was the best novice and she is turning into one of the best on varsity. Again, she is going to develop as she learns to find the water more and more. But, I think it has been really nice to see their progress unfolding."
What are your goals for your team this fall season?
"We just want to attack. The Head of the Iowa is our last race of the fall and the team needs to come down the course at race pace for 16 minutes going as hard as possible with every stroke."