By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 1, 2014
This season, the goals were straightforward: win the Big Ten Championship and complement it with a national title. After the No. 8 Michigan women’s rowing team was runner-up in the former, only the latter remained.
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But maybe the bar was set too high.
Friday morning, the Wolverines finished eighth with 101 points at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, marking the end of their season.
“I think it was a good year,” said Michigan coach Mark Rothstein. “You’re never satisfied unless you’re first, but honestly, I thought it was a really good finish. … Being top eight in the nation is still a great accomplishment.”
In Michigan’s last race of the day, its No. 8 seed first varsity-eight boat — the only one that qualified for the grand final — burst out of the starting gate with the will that could’ve gotten the Wolverines the first-place finish they wanted.
But the fast pace could only hold for so long. Nearing 500 meters, all six crews came within a boat’s length of each other, and Michigan was eventually head-to-head with No. 1 Ohio State, the team that two weeks ago dashed the Wolverines’ Big Ten title hopes.
And the Buckeyes, once again, dashed the only goal left.
Ohio State pulled ahead to claim its second straight national title, while Michigan fell behind to finish fifth in the race at 6:50.134, almost six seconds behind its rival.
“I don’t think we got into a very good rhythm in the second 500, and we didn’t finish very well,” Rothstein said. “Ohio State was clearly the best boat. … Our boat didn’t have the best race in the final, which is disappointing, but they had a great regatta.”
According to senior Bryna Oleshansky, the difference between Michigan’s boat and the Buckeyes’ is that the Wolverines aren’t as balanced as Ohio State is, which is key to continuing momentum throughout a race.
“They just bested us today,” Oleshansky said. “They’re a really impressive team, and we have a lot of respect for them winning two national championships in a row, which is unheard of.”
Saturday, the top three teams of the three semi-final races qualified for a chance to race in their respective grand finals Sunday, whereas the remaining 12 teams competed in a petite final.
After a fourth-place finish in the semifinal, Michigan’s No. 8 seed second varsity-eight boat won the petite final in 7:02.998 for a seventh-place finish overall. Meanwhile, in the first varsity-four boat petite final, the Wolverines’ ninth-seeded boat was runner-up to the Buckeyes by 2.632 seconds.
Michigan’s first varsity-eight boat made the grand final by the skin of its teeth — in Saturday’s semifinal, the Wolverines rebounded from fourth place with the fastest 500 split in the race, and edged Princeton by less than half a second for the qualifying third-place spot.
According to Oleshansky, it couldn’t have happened without the voice of junior coxswain Hannah Sherman.
“We’re lucky to have coxswain to speak for us at those times,” Oleshansky said. “We just shut down our brains and got into a rhythm to go as hard as we could — it’s almost like we’re not thinking at that point.”
Oleshansky said she and her teammates came into the weekend trying to prove something, and she felt they did. After Sunday’s final, she left her boat, looked at Rothstein and said, “I’m not sad about it.” Finishing was as important as the result.
Since day one in September, they haven’t stopped thinking about this weekend. It’s given them the fuel to push through the thick and thin, even to the point where Oleshansky now feels more fit than she has ever been in her career at Michigan.
After finishing second in the Big Ten Championships, she said her team really came together and wanted to go out with a fight, even if they thought they couldn’t win the national title — it was the finish that mattered, and she knows they laid it all out, racing their best for three days straight.
“We’ve gone through just about every adversity and challenge that has been thrown at us and came out on the other side,” Oleshansky said. “It’s been a really special year, and I couldn’t be any happier to end my four years with this team.”