BELLEVILLE — While the No. 9 Michigan rowing team had success this fall at regattas like Head of the Charles, in this weekend’s season opener against Yale and Harvard, the Wolverines faced a new beast entirely: the spring race.
In the fall, the rowers race between four and six kilometers, while spring races are almost always two kilometers. This change affects practically every aspect of the race from the very first stroke.
The officials called the start in Saturday’s 1V8 race against Yale, and both boats were off. Sophomore coxswain Charlotte Powers called out the starting sequence, followed by the high strokes — an element unique to spring racing that Michigan began practicing earlier this week.
While Powers felt good about her boat’s start, Yale still managed to inch out ahead within the first 30 seconds.
“We did a great job executing (the start) today but I think we need to continue working on staying internal,” said senior Kathryn Grotto. “Not focusing on what other boats are doing and just rowing our own race.”
Yale maintained its marginal lead as the boats passed the 1000 meter mark, but the Wolverines weren’t giving up.
“Our game plan going in was to stay really composed through the first 1500 (meters),” Grotto said. “And then, once we get to 500 left, we’re just going to see where we’re at on the other boat and just do whatever we have to do.”
With 500 meters to go, Powers decided it was time for her boat to make a move.
A smile broke over her face as she reflected on those last 500 meters, in which Michigan attempted a sprint for the first time this year. This risk paid off as it walked back on Yale, crossing the finish line first by less than a second.
“We were down the whole race and we, as a boat, at the last 500 decided we were going to try to stop them from moving up anymore,” Powers said. “We just inched into them. We have the tiniest, best stroke ever, (freshman) Jess Schoonbee, and I just kept telling her to take the rate up every couple of strokes and she responded every time and, so we came in through the line at a 42 (strokes per minute).”
Not only are the rowers adjusting to the inherent differences of spring racing — like the start and the sprint — but also to a new lineup. While many of the 1V8 raced together at the Head of the Charles in the fall, Michigan coach Mark Rothstein made a couple of changes, including putting Schoonbee in the stroke seat.
Though Schoonbee is the only freshman in the 1V8, as stroke seat, she is responsible for setting the pace for the rest of the boat. While in the fall, rowers typically race between 26 and 30 strokes per minute, during spring racing, the rate is ratcheted up to anywhere from 32 to 38 strokes per minute — even higher during the sprint. This increase puts pressure on the eight-seat to find the perfect balance between speed and control as they move up the slide.
This weekend, Schoonbee did just that.
“(Schoonbee) did great — very composed,” Rothstein said. “I thought the whole boat rowed a really composed race. We got down, but there was no panic.”
Rothstein believes it was that calm and composure that carried Michigan from the start, through the thousand, into the last 500 meters — ultimately past the finish line first.
If this race is any indication, the Wolverines won’t have any trouble with the adjustment.