Women's rowing receives NCAA berth

Badgers reach national championships for the second straight season

MADISON—Last year, the University of Wisconsin women's openweight rowing team learned its NCAA fate via an e-mail sent out by the team's coaching staff. Tuesday afternoon, the Badgers gathered in the glimmering new Porter Boathouse along the shore of Lake Mendota here and listened to the NCAA's announcement live via teleconference.

There were some anxious looks before the selections commenced, but once Wisconsin's name was called, the room erupted in a boisterous cheer.

"Everyone is just excited," senior captain Shannon Gedman said.

After finishing third at the North-Central Regional last weekend, the Badgers were optimistic that they would be chosen among the 12 complete teams that will compete at the CSUS Aquatic Center in Rancho Cordova, Calif., May 27-29. Four additional schools' varsity eights were also invited to take part.

"I had a strong inclination to think we were going to go, but you never know for sure until you hear it over the phone," head coach Bebe Bryans said. "I wasn't surprised but I was relieved."

This the third time UW has reached the NCAA championships, having also qualified in 1999 and 2004. The sport has been sanctioned by the NCAA since 1997.

Last year, the Badgers placed 11th at the NCAA meet, capping a tumultuous year. Former coach Maren LaLiberty resigned in February 2004, having led the program for about 18 months. In her stead, former head coach Sue Ela served as interim coach.

Bryans was hired last summer and by all counts the proceeding year has been a breath of fresh air for a program on the rise.

"It's gone amazingly smoothly considering what the possibilities were," Bryans said. "I think this team is fabulous. They wanted to be successful and so they weren't going to let anything, including a new coach, get in their way. They made my job pretty simple."

"I think this year has been a great transition year," Gedman said. "It wasn't really difficult… I really trusted Bebe from the start and throughout the whole year it's just trust with them that, like, we may not be as fast right now as we know we can be in the NCAAs.

"I think that's a really hard thing with athletes to hear: ‘Don't worry. We're going to find speed later on, you just have to wait for it.' This whole year has been a really great learning process for us as a team."

Gedman said the team's goal is for all three boats—the varsity eight, second varsity eight and varsity four—to reach their grand final, which would guarantee a finish of no lower than sixth in each of those events.

What do they need to do to reach the grand finals?

"Go faster," Bryans said with a laugh. "They have to have the race of their lives and they have to have the race of their lives on that day.

"They could do it. It has been our goal. When we made it in September it was a dream goal. I really didn't know if it was possible or not because I didn't know the team. Now I think it is. But, that being said, they are going to have to go faster than they have been and that's what we do in the next few weeks is get faster."

For the second straight year, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State joined UW as Big Ten programs to earn invitations. Prior to coming to Madison, Bryans coached the Spartans for seven years.

"I'm really pleased," Bryans said of MSU's selection. "I'm pleased to have the opportunity to race them again. Good for them, good for us and great for the Big Ten. Four teams from the Big Ten. It's awesome. It just shows that we are legitimate and we're here."

"I always hope that Michigan State does almost as good as we do," Bryans added.

What: NCAA Division I Women's Rowing Championships
When: May 27-29
Where: CSUS Aquatic Center in Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Host: California State University, Sacramento

Teams selected:
Michigan State
Ohio State

At-large eights

Badger Nation Top Stories