BELLEVILLE, Mich. — The Michigan rowing team won the race by the slimmest of margins, but the day belonged to technology.
With visibility suffering due to a steady rain falling on Belleville Lake on Saturday, it became nearly impossibly to tell from a distance whether Ohio State’s or Michigan’s boat crossed the finish line first in the fourth varsity-eight race.
The regatta’s referee told bystanders that it was one of the closest races he had ever seen.
“It’s a good thing that we’re videotaping the finish lines,” he said.
Both boats waited with baited breath while the officials reviewed the film. After the brief delay, the Wolverines’ time of 7:05.20 narrowly edged out that of Ohio State, 7:05.34.
“The race would’ve been nightmarish to call (without the videotape),” the referee added.
Because of the photo finish, Michigan coach Mark Rothstein had no idea who had won. It wasn’t until he received a tweet congratulating his fourth varsity-eight crew that he realized the result.
“That was a great race,” Rothstein said. “It’s really nice to come out on top of that. That crew did a really great job today. … That was a good finish.”
The early-morning nail biter wouldn’t set a trend for the remainder of the day, though. Michigan swept two varsity-eight races once again, capping a successful afternoon against Oregon State, Tennessee, Oklahoma and the Buckeyes.
Instead of another stroke-for-stroke contest in the second varsity-eight race, the Wolverines jumped out to an early lead that grew. The Michigan boat, led by junior coxswain Kate Grimaldi, cruised to a comfortable six-second victory with a time of 6:49.29.
For Grimaldi, it can be difficult to keep her boat motivated without another one in hot pursuit. But the rowers still edged out the second-place Lady Vols.
“We’re focusing on getting the biggest margin at the end of the race,” Grimaldi said. “We’re still trying to beat these crews by as much as we think Ohio State might beat them.”
Grimaldi kept an eye on the other boats throughout the race, but for the final push, it’s all hands on deck — literally. She tries to pinpoint technical adjustments that can give the Wolverines an edge down the stretch, not that they needed it to win Saturday’s race.
Ohio State gave the Wolverines the most trouble all day, but not necessarily to Michigan’s dismay. With the Big Ten Championships just under a month away, the rowers welcomed the opportunity to compete against the defending champions.
“We’ve seen their times and their margins, so we know they’re a really fast team,” Grimaldi said.
She added that even when Ohio State isn’t in the race, the Wolverines are still picturing scarlet and gray bearing down on them.
“They’re good from top to bottom,” Rothstein said. “I think we’re really looking forward to racing them at Big Tens. I was not surprised at all (with Ohio State’s performance on Saturday).”
In addition to facing stellar competition, Grimaldi also welcomes the harsh elements. In fact, she preferred the rainy conditions that Michigan rowed in Saturday.
“It’s not as big of a factor as you would think,” Grimaldi said. “As the rain comes in, it’s a little bit nicer because the wind tends to die down.”
Though Saturday was full of promise for his team with the postseason nearing rapidly, Rothstein still knows there’s room for improvement.
“We clearly need to get faster in our varsity fours,” Rothstein said. “I think our novices are making progress, but they aren’t there yet.”
Knocking off a few seconds on a few boats may make the difference in Big Tens, but one crew already looks invincible. Michigan’s first varsity-eight boat, led by junior coxswain Colleen Macke, is undefeated this season.