Rowing to a Big Ten titleAlexandria's Ahna Olson steps outside familiarity to join the Badger rowing team
By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
From a tryout she expected to go nowhere to a Big Ten champion four years later.
That is the road Alexandria native Ahna Olson has taken with the University of Wisconsin rowing team. The former hockey and soccer standout for the Cardinals was one of about 150 girls who tried out for the Badger rowing team her freshman year. She was one of 20 who remained by the end of that year.
Olson has climbed her way up the ranks in the three years since. On May 1, her perseverance with a sport she knew nothing about four years ago paid off as she was a part of the varsity eight boat that crossed the finish line in 6:22.63 to secure the University of Wisconsin's first-ever Big Ten team rowing championship.
"It was pretty amazing to think about how this was the first team championship in program history," Olson said. "Just thinking about all the people who rowed before us, who made it possible and who were cheering us on. It was a pretty emotional moment for a lot of people in our boat. It's pretty cool to work that hard and get recognized for it."
The anxiety level in the boat was high after the Badgers edged Ohio State by .01 seconds. Olson and the rest of her varsity eight teammates were on the water warming up when Wisconsin's second varsity eight team took first to give the Badgers a 19-point lead going into the final race.
That meant Olson and her teammates needed at least a third-place finish to secure the title. The problem was they did not know that.
"We kind of had the mindset that we needed to go out and win it," she said. "We talked about before the race that this was the first time in our history that winning was an actual probability and not just a slim chance. So it was pretty exciting going into that last race."
Wisconsin has the Big Ten's oldest women's rowing program. It took 11 years of competing at the conference championships, but the team title finally has a place in Madison.
That performance positioned the Badgers nicely in their bid to make the NCAA Championships on May 29-30. A selection committee chooses what it feels is the top 16 teams in the country to compete.
Olson knows the Badgers can leave no doubt about their selection with a strong performance in the NCAA Central/South Regional this weekend in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It is an opportunity for the Badgers to show how they stack up against other teams who will qualify.
"After winning the Big Ten, I'm obviously feeling pretty confident," Olson said. "But it's not set in stone. Until the minute they announce your name, you don't really know."
That has her and her teammates focused on the task at hand.
"The Monday after we got back from the Big Tens, we sat down before practice and talked about how in the past, the teams that have won Big Ten titles have struggled after that with keeping up the same level of performance. We kind of sat down to reaffirm that we need to keep moving forward and keep expecting better performances out of ourselves."
Another strong performance at the Central/South Regional should give the Badgers an opportunity to compete for a national title later this month. It would be their seventh trip to the NCAA championships in school history and their third straight.
For Olson, it would be icing on the cake in what has already been an improbable rowing career at Wisconsin.
"I thought I was just going to try out and not really stick with it," she said. "I really found that it has given me a lot of great friendships, a lot of great experiences that I wouldn't have had. That I got to compete at such a high level with some of these other great women is pretty amazing."
BIG 10 CHAMPS
The Wisconsin Badgers won their first Big Ten openweight rowing title
It was their first in the 11-year history of the Big Ten championships
The Badgers have the oldest rowing program in the Big 10
Wisconsin's rowing team made their fifth NCAA_championship appearance in six years
The Big Ten
rowing championships will air at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 16 on the Big Ten Network