This weekend, the No. 5 Michigan rowing team took home the Big Ten title for the sixth time in program history.
Both the first and second varsity eights beat Ohio State to claim first place. With their strongest races of the season, the top boats set the tone for the rest of the team.
By the end of the day, the Wolverines had four gold medals along with two two silver and a bronze.
“I don’t know if it’s completely set in yet, but (it feels) pretty unreal,” said senior Caroline Hendershot. “ I feel like I’ve worked four years for a moment like this and when it happens, it’s almost startling to the point that you don’t think that it’s real.”
According to Michigan coach Mark Rothstein, the team’s success across the board can be traced back to three things: commitment, hard work and strong leadership.
Strong leadership from sophomore coxswain Charlotte Powers may have made all the difference in the first varsity eight’s race. Iowa jumped out ahead of Michigan right from the starting sequence, but the rowers didn’t let it faze them, holding onto their second place position with Ohio State just behind.
Powers kept the rowers composed, calling a move at the 500-meter mark to inch up on Iowa. From just behind her, Powers could hear the Buckeye’s coxswain calling another shift, so she did the same — counteracting Ohio State’s move. By the time the race was halfway through, the Wolverines had shaken Iowa and held a solid lead.
In the last 500 meters, the boat brought up the rate and powered through the sprint. Michigan kept taking seats until it crossed the finish line with a healthy four second margin — about a boat length — on Ohio State.
The Wolverines struggled against the Buckeyes earlier in the season, falling to Ohio State in two consecutive races last month. Rothstein had been tweaking the lineup, and two weeks ago, found something that clicked. Since being in their final lineup, the first varsity eight has not lost a race.
This competition between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines is nothing new. The rivals have taken first and second place in eight of the past nine Big Ten championships. But this is the first year since 2012 that Michigan has come out ahead which, to some, has made the victory even sweeter.
“Everyday, we get up at 5:30 and we go to practice, work out for our first practice of the day, we go to class, go to our second practice of the day,” Hendershot said. “We’re working really hard all the time — putting in all of this time and effort. I came in my freshman year thinking, ‘Ok, if I put in all of this time and effort, obviously, I should win. But then I learned at (the) Big Ten (Championship) my freshman year that it’s not just the hard work and the time and the effort that make you a champion. You have to really earn it. It takes something extraordinary to make you a Big Ten champion.”