Friday, June 09, 2006

Wisconsin Under Shofner

Just as you know an artist by her work, so you know a coach by her crews. Over the past three years, her entire tenure at Wisconsin, Mary Shofner’s crews have been champions. During a period when women’s lightweights have been getting faster and more numerous, the Badgers have been National Champions every year. More than simply fast, Shofner’s Wisconsin crews have been models of technique. They’ve been smooth, fluid, and long. In the 2005 IRA final, when Princeton was still making a race of it coming into the last 250, both crews went into their sprint. Within two strokes you saw that it was over; Wisconsin would win. The Badgers actually seemed to get longer as their rate came up. They were an image of swing. In my mind, that moment defined Wisconsin lightweight rowing. Most would point to the 2004 twelve second mauling of the IRA field instead, but that victory was so fantastic as to seem almost unrepeatable. It was ’05, when Wisco showed its typical poise and responded to pressure with, “Oh yeah? Watch this.”

As Mary Shofner leaves the University of Wisconsin, we should all be grateful for what she helped the Badgers bring to the sport. When she arrived, Wisconsin was a bridesmaid program that just couldn’t quite get its bowball over the line first. She leaves behind the foundation of a dynasty. Wisconsin’s rise has been one of the best stories in women’s lightweight rowing. The program has thrived at a Big Ten school, where heavyweights usually rule. It thrives at a school in “flyover country” and shows Eastern crews that women know how to row in the Midwest too. It became the premier program in a boathouse with a long and rich rowing tradition. It brought red and white checked tablecloths to IRA tents and cowbells to the shores of the Cooper River (ok, so not everything is good). It brought competition and respect to lightweight rowing and throngs of new fans to the sport - no one travels as well as Wisconsin. Perhaps the most fitting tribute to Coach Shofner’s crews came from a Princeton rower I overhead at IRAs this year. Responding to the chest beating the men were doing about East Coast vs. West Coast crews, this rower said, “The thing about Wisconsin is, they don’t run around crowing about being from the Midwest, they just go out and get the job done. The men could learn something from that.” We all could learn something from that.

I don’t know where Coach Shofner will coach next, but where ever it is I wish her success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you