For the Michigan women’s crew team, last season’s disappointing second-place finish at the Big Ten Championships was a bitter pill to swallow. But it will only make a run to the top of the conference that much sweeter for the Wolverines this time around.

Michigan took a big step in the right direction this weekend in Columbus, sweeping all four varsity races in the ACC/Big Ten Double Dual against No. 10 Virginia and Duke.

“I told our team the other day that I never have had a team that has improved in the course of a year (more) than this team,” Michigan coach Mark Rothstein said. “I’m not just talking about boat speed – just the way they conduct themselves, their attitudes, work ethic. It’s really fun to come to practice. They’re excited. Last year, it wasn’t that way.”

The fifth-ranked Wolverines have a lot to be excited about, as both Rothstein and senior coxswain Helen Dalis see the competition nationally as wide open unlike past years.

“There’s a lot of parity this year it appears,” Rothstein said. “On any given day, there are 10 or 12 teams who could beat any of the other top teams. We’re in a good position.”

Dalis said it was “too early to tell” whether or not the Wolverines have what it takes to make a run for the national title.

“It’s going to be a lot easier to tell after Big Tens and Regionals,” Dalis said. “A lot of teams gain speed throughout the season. We’ve (only) been on the water for three weeks now.”

Three weeks of time on the water was enough to get the Wolverines ready to dismantle the Cavaliers and Blue Devils this weekend. Dalis and the first varsity eight boat finished five seconds ahead of Virginia’s top group with a time of 6:21.7 in the morning. But they weren’t done just yet.

“We decided we needed to improve the first thousand meters of the race,” Dalis said. “We wanted to make a statement in that second race against Duke. We wanted to really open up a margin.”

The boat did just that, sending Duke back to ACC country with a 12-second defeat. In fact, the Wolverines’ second varsity eight was just one-tenth of a second behind Duke’s first varsity unit.

The home stretch is coming soon for the Wolverines, as they have just one event before the big one: The chance to reclaim the Big Ten title from Ohio State. Michigan is already licking its chops to show that last season was an aberration from the rule.

“I know I learned a lot last year,” Rothstein said. “Even though you hate to go through seasons like that, it’s important for any program to go through difficult times and to learn from those times. We won the Big Ten championship the first two years, then last year we didn’t, so the kids are pretty motivated to do that.”

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