They are the early risers. Their alarms sound off hours before those of their peers. They arrive at Bloomington’s Lake Lemon long before sunrise, anxious to shed time from their results ahead of a short spring season. They are the Rowing Hoosiers.
Each Monday through Saturday, they are determined to grind out early two-hour practices, and that discipline has willed them to four straight NCAA Championship appearances.
“It’s all about finding something organic,” senior Hilary Shinnick said. “It’s a collective mindset between the coaches and the athletes, and there’s really good flow going on. What’s turned the program around is upping the work and mileage and the athletes getting on the same page with coaches.”
Shinnick is a native of Ireland, where she grew up a three-sport athlete. The Irish senior also swam and played Gaelic football before college, but she started rowing when she was 10 years old. Before transferring to IU in 2016, Shinnick pushed Notre Dame’s rowing squad to multiple championship weekends, but the team never placed higher than ninth.
“To close out as a champion would just be amazing, and it would really top off my own career, knowing that I put the program in a good place,” Shinnick said.
Although Shinnick is a transfer athlete, her goals are no different than any other senior. The team has two graduate students and seven seniors, and all nine of them want to take IU to new heights before their time with the team is up.
As head coach Steve Peterson approaches his 15th season at the helm of the team, his squad is facing a bit of adversity despite the booming success over the last four years.
After the 2016-17 season, the team graduated eight seniors, but it added 27 freshmen. The team hasn’t seen this many first-year athletes since the 2015-16 season, when more than 30 freshmen occupied roster spots.
Although throwing many newcomers into this competitive environment may seem intimidating, these rowers are ready to contribute to the program so IU can stay true to its winning ways.
“It definitely does add a bit of stress every day at practice, but it kind of encourages everyone to work harder,” freshman Emily Schutzman said. “You’re gonna have bad days, but you have to make the most out of every practice and know what you did wrong and learn from it.”
The season began this past Saturday with a scrimmage against Ohio State, the defending NCAA champions. The Buckeyes are also a Big Ten foe of the Hoosiers, so the team treated this exhibition differently from the rest.
Ahead of the intersquad meet, Peterson referenced his excitement for the event, calling it fantastic. Although there are no official results kept at these scrimmages, coaches use them as a chance to see where their teams stand before the competitive season commences.
On March 24, the Hoosiers will play host to Kansas in their final scrimmage in Bloomington. Last season, the Jayhawks placed fourth in the Big 12 and saw their head coach, Rob Catloth, retire after more than 20 years with the team.
On March 31, the varsity rowers will be in New Jersey for the Doc Hosea Invitational while the novice squad will head back to Ohio for the Marietta Challenge Cup.
With the regular season coming into picture within the next two weeks, Peterson expects the same out of his squad as usual.
“We want to go faster,” Peterson said. “We want to be going down the course faster, we want to finish higher at Big Ten’s and NCAA’s, and I think we’re on track for that.”
And it’s only a matter of time. Soon enough, the team will be at the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. Over the course of the next two months, the team's performance will ultimately decide their fate of a fifth consecutive NCAA championship appearance.
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