May 2, 2014
MADISON, Wis. -- Despite a slow-to-thaw Lake Mendota allowing for little outdoor rowing time in Madison this spring, the No. 4 Wisconsin women’s lightweight rowing team will look to put its long winter of training to use this Sunday at the 2014 EAWRC Eastern Sprints in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“It’s a fascinating experiment - what you can do without water,” lightweight coach Lisa Schlenker said. “The conditioning, mental toughness and fortitude the athletes have. You stick them in a boat and they remember what liquid is. They are getting a lot better.
“They are coming along. We are not done with selections for IRA [national championships], because the growth of their talent is exponential for every day we are on the water. There is a new understanding. That is really exciting.”
The growth continues this weekend against steep competition. Four of the Badgers’ opponents in the upcoming conference sprints are ranked in the top 10 teams nationally, with rivals Radcliffe and Princeton checking in ahead of Wisconsin at No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. No. 6 Boston University and No. 8 Georgetown are also expected in the field.
Despite placing fourth overall last year, the Badgers have a history of success in the Eastern Sprints. Wisconsin has eight EAWRC titles, including seven of the past nine, with its most recent occurring in 2012 when UW edged second-place Bucknell by just over four seconds.
“We use this as an IRA national championship qualification,” Schlenker explained. “The top three boats in the varsity eight get a bid. Last year, I think we were fourth, but we still got the at-large.
“We have been ranked from two to sixth this year. We were two when nobody saw us on the water and then this weekend we are ranked fourth, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
Harvard is the early leader this year again. That is exactly the same way it was last year, but then Stanford overtook them. Princeton was fast early last year, but we took them at IRAs. They demolished us early in the year last year. They got us by three seconds earlier this year, but that is nothing.”
The Badgers put their boats in open water for the first time this season during a practice session just hours before opening their spring racing schedule at the Oak Ridge Invitational in Oak Ridge, Tenn., on March 15. The competition proved tough, as UW’s varsity eight and second varsity eight boats fell to openweight crews from Michigan State and Tennessee on day one of the invite.
But the Badgers battled back in the second day of races, racing a time of 7:14.200 in the second varsity eight to defeat Dayton’s openweight squad by half a minute. The varsity eights completed the 2,000-meter stretch on Melton Hill Lake in 7:06.344, checking in just behind Dayton’s openweight boat.
After almost a month without the opportunity to row outdoors, the team continued its spring schedule at the Knecht Cup, a 70-team regatta in West Windsor, N.J., on April 12. In a full day of competitive first-round races, multiple Badger boats qualified for the finals to be held the following day, including the varsity eights, second varsity eights, novice eights and lightweight eights.
Wisconsin opened the final day of Knecht Cup races with a nail-biting finish in the lightweight eight final, edging Bucknell by one-hundredth of a second to claim third place. Facing openweight squads in all of the remaining events, the Badger lightweights finished fifth in the novice eight grand final, sixth in the second varsity eight grand final, and fourth in the varsity eight petite final after crossing the line just seven-tenths of a second behind Buffalo.
In the most recent action, Wisconsin’s lightweights traveled to Boston to face four top-10 opponents in the Boston Round Robin on April 19-20. The Badgers raced the 2,000-meter course in 7:34.0 to finish third behind Radcliffe and Stanford in the varsity eights before claiming second place behind Radcliffe in the second varsity eight race, defeating the squads from Stanford, Boston University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
UW found similar successes in the second day of Boston Round Robin racing, edging Boston University by seven-tenths of a second to take second in the varsity eight before capturing a first-place victory with a time of 6:55.8 in the second varsity eight.
“This is about the same practice schedule we did it last year, but we’ve had more races this year,” said Schlenker. “We’ve had better opportunities to race this year between the Knecht Cup and over in Boston.
“When we were in Boston, they had a long five-mile warm up to get the boats down to MIT, which was fantastic. It was more time to dip their blades in the water.”
Following the Eastern Sprints on Sunday, the Wisconsin lightweights will have just under a month to prepare for the 2014 Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships, beginning on May 30 in West Windsor, N.J.