Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was an unforgettable week for head coach Andrew Carter and the University of Iowa rowing program. During a rare lull amid the exhilaration of qualifying for an NCAA Championships for the first time in 16 years, Carter revisited a PowerPoint presentation he shared with athletics staff when he interviewed for a job here four seasons ago.
“I spoke about what I believe this program should be,” Carter said. “We needed to be perennially in the top four spots in the Big Ten to be (an NCAA Championships) contender.”
On May 14 at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, the Hawkeyes tied for fourth in the Big Ten with Indiana, scoring a school-record 106 points. Two days later, they officially earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships that will be held Friday through Sunday on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, New Jersey.
Carter knows that fourth place in the Big Ten almost certainly assures a trip to nationals. But there was still apprehension because the Hawkeyes tied for fourth, coupled with the fact Indiana used a furious rally over the final 200 meters of the 1 Varsity 8 final to beat Iowa by 1.086 seconds.
“That single result in that single event is what turned the tide,” Carter said. “We would have sat alone in fourth position in the league and we would have absolutely been in (the NCAA Championships) — no discussion.”
Following the race, Carter approached his friend and head coach of the Hoosiers, Steve Peterson.
“I said, ‘Listen, with as much affection as possible, you’re a pain in my (butt),” Carter said with a laugh.
Although the 1V8 result created 48 hours of angst in Iowa City, Iowa, it made the selection celebration even more special. Iowa expected to practice May 16 if and after it was selected to the NCAA Championships, but Carter waived the workout so student-athletes and staff could “bugger off for a few hours.”
“It’s more relief because one of the hardest parts of my job is to look in the faces of people who think they under-performed, under-achieved, or didn’t meet the goals they set for themselves,” Carter said. “Instead, I got to look into faces of women who have achieved what they set out to do and that is one of the most satisfying things I do in my job.”
It’s more relief because one of the hardest parts of my job is to look in the faces of people who think they under-performed, under-achieved, or didn’t meet the goals they set for themselves,” Carter said. “Instead, I got to look into faces of women who have achieved what they set out to do and that is one of the most satisfying things I do in my job. — Andrew Carter
The Hawkeye program is on pace with what Carter intended to build when he was hired July 13, 2013. He knew there were athletic student-athletes at Iowa when he arrived, so he fixated on changing culture and expectations.
“I don’t know if they fully believed in what they were capable of doing,” Carter said. “What has taken time is (they needed) little bits and pieces to re-brand and change their perspective of themselves and what they were capable of. We don’t have tremendously better athletes involved, but we have more competitive expectations in their heads.”
What unfolded during the 2016-17 season hasn’t been a surprise; Carter watched the team grow during fall training over long distance races. Winter preparation went well.
Carter was encouraged by how the Hawkeyes started to walk the walk and talk the talk.
In February, Iowa headed to a scrimmage at the University of Texas. Typically that trip would conclude with the Hawkeyes taking their lumps and moping back to campus. Not this time.
“We swept them in pieces,” Carter said. “We came out on top in the very first one and one of our seniors looked at me with a sheepish grin, so I gave her a wink and she burst into a huge smile.
“There was so much pent up in her. She seemed to be thinking, ‘Did that just happen?’ I knew at that point we were going to be OK.”
It has been a steady progression upward for the program in the last four seasons. The Hawkeyes were seventh in the seven-team Big Ten Conference in 2014 with 39 points. In 2015, Iowa placed sixth with 79 points and climbed to fifth a year ago with 95 points. On May 14 the team topped the 100-point threshold for the first time ever.
“We have gotten (to the NCAA Championships) for the first time since 2001, now it is a matter of making that sustainable,” Carter said. “Everyone used to expect us to be at the bottom (of the Big Ten), now they should expect us to be in the top four.”
Sharing fourth in the conference standings isn’t Carter’s end goal. The next step, he says, is every couple seasons to “take a kick at the top can.”
The Hawkeyes will get their kicks in this weekend as one of the top 22 rowing programs in the nation. They belong, and postseason competition is the new expectation within Iowa’s rowing culture.