BY JAKE KRZECZOWSKI | MAY 01, 2009 7:28 AM
Walk down by the IMU sometime between 6-8 a.m., almost any day of the week, and just look at the river for about 10 minutes. The sleep will be knocked out of your eyes pretty quickly.
The peaceful setting of the Iowa River will quickly be displaced by the uniform thumping of oars hitting water, sounding like troops marching into battle followed by amplified voices exploding from megaphones.
“Imagine we’re racing Ohio State right now,” Iowa head coach Mandi Kowal yells to her rowers.
What you’ll see is Iowa’s 17th-ranked rowing team feverishly preparing for this weekend’s Big Ten championships, which will be held in Columbus, Ohio.
The team has been on hiatus since April 11, when it competed with No. 3 Michigan State, No. 4 Michigan, and No. 18 Louisville in Belleville, Mich. The Hawkeyes have used the time to fine-tune their technique and strategy.
“We have been focusing on what our strengths have been all year, ” Kowal said. “We need to put all of those together in one race.”
The second half of the race is where Iowa excels, so much of the training has been working on building speed from the start, similar to the thought process of a sprinter running a race.
To do this, the team has focused on improving its rating — its strokes per minute.
“We’ve been focusing as a whole on taking it up a notch,” Iowa assistant coach Emily Lewis said.
All of this comes into play with the team’s race plan.
“There are little things other teams do as a crew that we’re aware of so that we’re not caught off-guard,” Kowal said.
The Hawkeyes’ first heat of the weekend will be against two formidable foes in No. 7 Ohio State and No. 14 Wisconsin.
“We think that they’re tough, but we also think they’re within reach,” Lewis said.
Iowa has already gotten looks at Wisconsin this spring, having competed against the Badgers in scrimmages as well as at the Longhorn Invitational in March.
But Kowal isn’t necessarily thinking about the competition her squad will be up against.
“The most important thing we can do is worry about ourselves,” she said.
The Hawkeyes have gotten better each week, breaking into the top 20 after their strong performance in Michigan, and they will try to continue that this weekend against some of the country’s best competition.
Six of the top 20 teams in the country are from the Big Ten. Along with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin is No. 20 Minnesota, making the Big Ten one of the best rowing conferences in the country, and the meet is one of the most prestigious as well.
“It’s going to be some very tough rowing this weekend,” Kowal said.