Michigan ventures into new waters and it pays off

Sunday, March 31, 2019 - 11:26pm

The Michigan rowing team's 1V8 boat sprinted towards the end for a photo finish win.

The Michigan rowing team's 1V8 boat sprinted towards the end for a photo finish win. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

BELLEVILLE — Faster. Faster.

It was the last 500 meters of the 1V8 race, and the No. 9 Michigan rowing team found its first varsity eight boat trailing behind No. 5 Yale’s. But what was once a four-seat gap had narrowed to just inches.

Faster. Faster.

Sophomore Charlotte Powers urged freshman Jessica Schoonbee to increase the pace. As the rhythm setter, it was up to Schoonbee to execute the orders of her coxswain and lead the pace for the Wolverines. Before, Michigan’s attempts to close the distance had been unsuccessful, as the Bulldogs simply fended off the pushes each time.

But in the last stretch of the race, the gap drew smaller and smaller as the Wolverines’ stroke rate grew faster and faster.

Faster. Stop.

The sprint to the finish created a photo finish. Taking a chance, the Wolverines ventured into new waters, and the gamble paid off. They finished the race in 6:35.32, a mere .77 seconds faster than Yale.

The game plan for Michigan was to stay composed and stay true to itself, the first 1,500. Don’t let the other team’s boat affect you, and don’t let up. And if that holds up, see where the other boat is and respond accordingly. Only, when the Wolverines looked over to Yale’s line at the last 500 meters, they knew they needed more than just composure to win.

Sprinting is not something they practice often — Saturday was the first day they did so all year. So before the race, the 1V8 got the approval from Michigan coach Mark Rothstein to use one solid, decisive move — sprinting. And after rowing from behind since the start, the boat decided to implement the newly acquired move. The Wolverines closed out the race, rowing at 42 strokes per minute.

“I mean, we were down the whole race,” Powers said. “And we as a boat, at the 500, decided we were just going to stop them from moving up any more and hold then we kind of just inched into them.”

All aspects of the boat executed in the clutch. The pressure came from the Bulldogs, but Michigan didn’t bite, instead, heeding the advice from Powers and following through.

“We did a great job executing today,” said senior Kathryn Grotto. “But I think continuing to stay internal and not focusing on what other boats are doing and just rowing our own race to make sure that we're putting ourselves in the best position to finish the piece.

“And our stroke (Schoonbee) is a freshman. It was her first weekend. Absolutely killed it. Every time a coxswain would say something, she just executed. And she did it, and she took the rate up.”

Schoonbee, in her weekend debut, highlighted a unified effort to set an aggressive pace for the Wolverines. Following suit, the rest of the varsity boats succeeded to win their respective races.

The 2V8, contrary to the first varsity eight, took an early lead from the start. Starts were something the team had been practicing in the past week. It paid dividends when Yale proceeded to bite into the four-seat lead. However, toward the last stretch of the race, the Bulldogs relinquished pressure and Michigan won with an open-water lead, tallying 6:57.22.

The 1V4 and 2V4 boats finished equally as dominant, recording a 7:50.29 and 8:01.86, respectively. Both created open-water leads that they didn’t give up, similarly to the second varsity eight boat.

The weekend sweep was denied, however, by the novice boats who failed to close the race, finishing 7:28.93 to Yale’s 7:25.50.

Despite the failures of the novice boats, Michigan will chalk up the weekend as a success, nearly sweeping both days of the regatta.