Hawkeye rowing improves at Head of the Iowa under new coach


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It’s a new era for the Iowa rowing team.

The Hawkeyes’ first varsity 8 boat finished the Head of the Iowa course 22 seconds faster than last year.

And the B boat was 22 seconds faster.

And the C boat was 30 seconds faster.

A 2011 finish of fifth, ninth, and 14th place in the varsity 4 became a third, sixth, and seventh in 2012.

Head coach Steve Pritzker, in his first year as head coach, has changed the Iowa program, and the result showed on the banks of the Iowa River on Sunday. Fans lined both banks and stood on the Hancher, Park Road, and IMU bridges to watch 10 teams row the Hawkeyes’ home river.

Pritzker is doing “an amazing job” in his first season, veteran rower Laura Hallman said.

“The team is really enjoying this season and the change,” she said. “We’re working hard. There’s a really high bar, and we’re doing our best to reach what [Pritzker] has set for us.”

He has placed a greater emphasis on fitness and conditioning. The Hawkeyes have started running the dreaded Carver-Hawkeye Arena stairs and have practices with more intense rowing-machine routines.

Junior Hallman said the work feels more efficient and translates better to the river than it ever did under former head coach Mandi Kowal, who held the position for 18 years before resigning following a lawsuit from a former athlete who claimed she was injured under her coaching.

“For the first time, I think we’re getting things done,” Hallman said.

Senior teammate Louise Bensz agrees that, although the transition to new leadership has been difficult, it has ended in results in the three regattas the team has raced in the fall.

“We’re so ready to see some progress. We know we’re in a better place than we were last year, and we’re going to keep moving forward,” the senior said. “This year we’re really focused on improving from last year, and that’s a big motivation for us.”

The Hawkeye rowers feel more confident going into the spring season than they ever have — and even more prepared for the annual home race on the Iowa River.

Feeling more competitive against other Big Ten teams such as Minnesota and Wisconsin made Pritzker’s first Head of the Iowa even more special for the rowers.

“We look forward to this race every year,” Bensz said. “And especially this year. To have everyone’s family here to see us do well, better, and the support from the university is really awesome.”

A “Jumbotron” scoreboard was assembled on the banks of the river, and even Herky appeared to interact with the hundreds of fans who crowded City Park on Sunday.

Mike Miller, a family friend and fan of Iowa varsity rower Katie Kroll, said the turnout this year as impressive and the team’s improvements are evident, even from the shore of the river.

“I’m not afraid to get a little goofy and to cheer for the Hawkeyes,” Miller said. “They’ve been working so hard this season, and they deserve to have people come out and support them, especially as they improve.”

Even the men’s club rowing team has noticed a change under Pritzker, even though the first year head coach doesn’t directly handle any the Recreational Services team.

Club president J.C. Gillett said the Head of the Iowa and the Iowa City rowing community has been growing since he started rowing with the club in 2010.

“Our relationship [with the collegie team] is growing a lot,” Gillett said. “Steve has been nothing but wonderful. We’ve talked, and he offers suggestions to help our team, which is a separate team, to help us out … he’s always helped us out, and that’s making things better.”

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