The Mississippi River turned into a raceway Saturday afternoon as Minnesota's rowing team hosted the Head of the Mississippi regatta.
And the track was full, with boats from all over the state getting in on the competition. Gophers' coach Wendy Davis said some inexperienced boats in the race made navigating a bit more interesting.
"It was kind of like NASCAR, where you are trying to weave your way through," she said.
The upriver, six-mile race began at the Lake Street bridge in Minneapolis and ended near the University campus under the Washington Avenue Bridge.
Minnesota's varsity eight posted a time of 13:05 to finish first in a flight of nine teams.
St. Thomas, Macalester College, St. John's and St. Benedict were some of the college teams that participated in the race.
The first race of the year gave the Gophers a chance to work out some kinks.
"In your first race you are always kind of rusty," Davis said. "And it is nice to be rusty at home."
The race was the first for the Gophers' novices. And after the six miles, Davis said these younger rowers will be better prepared.
"After this race, now they know what they are doing and now they understand what we are doing in practice and why we are doing it," Davis said.
Davis, who has been competing in and coaching the sport for close to 25 years, knows it takes a certain type of person to stick around.
"The thing about rowing is you love it, or you quit," she said. "It's not like some game sports; you have to love it, because it hurts."
The core of the Gophers first varsity eight has been in the program since it was a club sport. And Davis said it speaks to the physical and mental toughness of her rowers.
"They are leaders in every sense of the word," Davis said.
One of those leaders is senior coxswain Katherine Nelson, who is in charge of the rhythm of the boat.
Saturday was a chance for Nelson to get a feel for the teams' rhythm in race atmosphere. And it can be a tough thing to maintain.
"Today, the great rowing was there, and then we got caught up in the race and thinking about what other boats are doing, and it left a little," Nelson said.
But she was happy with the way the team rowed as it gears up for the Head of the Rock race Sunday where the Gophers will see stronger programs such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Notre Dame.
As the Gophers began the year, they have kept a lot of experience and, Davis said, have gained speed.
"We are faster now in October than we were in May," Davis said. "But sometimes you are slow and the others are slower, and sometimes you're fast and the others are faster."
The team is not lacking confidence as they look to Sunday and embark on their journey toward the NCAA championships in a strong Big Ten conference.
"This will hopefully be a break-through year for us," senior Jill Peters said. "We have a lot of new talent and returning experience."
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