Getting set on the launch at a foggy Belleville Lake, the Michigan rowing team entered the water for its first competition since the 2017 NCAA Grand Final — the race that placed the Wolverines at third best in the nation.
Against Ypsilanti neighbor Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines raced four 3,000-meter pieces Sunday morning for the non-scoring scrimmage. With the staff’s goal of evaluating early progress, Michigan hoped to rid itself of any preseason jitters by working new lineups and athletes into each boat.
“We really just wanted to see how we rowed, to see how we executed the things we’ve been working on in practice,” said Michigan coach Mark Rothstein. “I think today exposed some issues, so it was a really good exercise.”
And though the outing may have exposed some issues, the top-ranked crew in the nation came out on top in all four pieces, lining up three separate eight boats per piece. In the first 6,000 meters, senior coxswain Alexis Jones lead the boat to an 11:03.2 piece — the fastest finish of the day. In the third and fourth pieces, Jillian Zull kept the lead, coming in in 11:13.2 seconds and 11:33.3 seconds, respectively.
All three Wolverine boats in the first three pieces of the day pulled ahead of the Eagles, coming in first, second and third, respectively.
After losing nine seniors to graduation last season, Michigan recruited plenty of freshmen for the coming year. The loss of that much experience would frighten most coaches in any sport. Rothstein, however, isn’t shaken in the slightest, looking to the 15 returning athletes instead.
“It really is just a long process of improving each individual and then coming together as a team in the spring,” Rothstein said. “We’ve got a lot of good athletes. We need to develop them into being a lot of really good rowers.”
The returning rowers are both experienced and eager. After finishing a painfully close second to five-time champions Ohio State for the Big Ten title last season — losing by only one point — the Wolverines will look for revenge this coming spring. They also aspire to make it to the Grand Final as they did last May.
With such lofty aspirations, Michigan knows it must continue to improve each day as a team. The Wolverines are reminded often by the proudly placed championship photos throughout their boathouse, and they are hungry.
“Our goal is to always win championships. That’s the standard and everybody knows that,” Rothstein said. “We just want to be better this week than we were last week.”
And with a week of free competition, Michigan has another seven days to do just so.