Minnesota opened up its rowing season over the weekend by winning six events on the first day of the Oak Ridge Invitational in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and followed it up with three second-place finishes Sunday.
The Gophers’ first meet came after a much milder winter than last year. This season, the team didn’t have to fret about the frozen Mississippi River and had more time to train on the open water early in the season.
Head coach Wendy Davis said that experience on the water was an irreplaceable advantage in the first regatta of the season.
“This is probably the most water time we’ve ever had [to start a season],” Davis said, “and thank goodness because there is no way we would have been competitive with the group that was here this weekend if we hadn’t had that water time.”
Davis said a majority of the southern schools that competed over the weekend were moving at a faster pace because they’ve had more time on the water to train.
Minnesota still held its own in the field and swept the morning sessions Saturday en route to four early victories.
The Gophers’ second varsity four and the second varsity eight placed first in the first two events of the day for Minnesota.
The first varsity four and first varsity eight followed suit and won the final two events of the morning.
Davis said winning some of these events early in the year gives her young team a sense of confidence moving forward.
“We are a very young team,” Davis said. “This weekend was huge on the experience factor … and I really feel like we’re on the verge of turning a corner as a program.”
In the afternoon session, the first varsity four and second varsity four squads each won their respective events.
Despite the early dominance by some of the squads, the first varsity eight sputtered over the weekend and finished third in its event Sunday.
Still, Davis said she was pleased with the effort against Virginia and Duke — two teams in the upper echelon of college rowing.
She added that she doesn’t feel like that group is too far off from being a contender.
The Gophers took second in first varsity four, the second varsity four and the second varsity eight Sunday.
Davis said amid the victories this weekend, the most important thing to her was just getting back on the water and competing.
“We train in a vacuum,” Davis said. “We’re all by our lonesome … so to be able to get on the line and deal with the pressure was big this weekend.”
Minnesota will travel to Iowa City, Iowa, next weekend to row in its first conference regatta of the season.