As the MSU rowing team makes its fourth consecutive NCAA National Championship Regatta appearance — the 13th in the last 14 seasons — head coach Matt Weise believes his team is even more prepared than it has been in the past.
The Spartans are among the top 16 teams in the nation competing this weekend on Lake Natoma in Gold River, Calif., and after placing fourth at the Big Ten Championships and having their varsity eight earn an unprecedented fourth consecutive gold medal, Weise has every right to be confident in his athletes.
As the emotional factor increases for the Spartans, Weise said he’s looking for strong leadership from his eight seniors to lead the team — something he’s seen throughout the season.
“If they can have the execution that goes up with that emotional side — if we do that, we’re going to row well and row as fast as we can,” Weise said.
“I can’t guarantee anything, but if they row their fastest, I think we’ll be in the top 10, maybe top five.”
With no automatic qualifiers for the championships, MSU is one of the nation’s top teams who was selected based on performance and strength of regular season schedule. Weise said next season, the NCAA is shifting toward automatic qualifiers, so this is the last year there are 16 teams who are fairly equal threats to win the national championship.
Beginning on Friday, the regatta opens with three heats of boats racing, and the top three from each heat progress to the semifinals Saturday. Boats who did not make the cut in their heats have a last chance race, where the top three finishers advance to the semifinals for 12 total boats competing.
The top three boats from the semifinals move to the grand final, and fourth, fifth and sixth places head to the second final.
Senior Laura Cowal — who the conference named Big Ten Athlete of the Year — said with the competition being so intense, any performance short of the Spartans’ best isn’t going to make the cut.
Racing in the varsity eight boat and after winning four consecutive gold medals at the Big Ten Championships, Cowal is ready to end her collegiate career in the nation’s top competition.
“I’m definitely looking forward to ending my career on a good note here as a senior and just laying everything out there and thinking about everything I’ve worked for for four years and showing that off now,” Cowal said.
Helping the Spartans keep their emotions in line, Weise has been preaching the idea that each race is 2,000 meters like its been all season. From their training and preparation, they hope they’ll be able to harness their emotions and use it to their advantage in an overwhelming environment.
“It’s the same thing; it’s 2,000 meters and the same thing we’ve been doing all year, but it’s on a bigger stage now,” senior Alex Maibusch said. “So I think if we keep our emotions in check, we’ll do just fine.”
If the Spartans can distance themselves from the hectic environment and use their nerves for a positive outcome, Weise said he has no doubt they’ll perform well.
After a season filled with rough patches and adversity, Cowal said MSU has gained confidence and come together as a unit. She said the Spartans are looking at the weekend as a celebration of everything they’ve worked toward.
“We’ve had some good (experiences), but it’s learning from those rough places and being able to see where your holes are and patch up those holes in our races,” she said. “We’ve come a long way, and we have that confidence to get us to a championship.”